When Do Most Postpartum Complications Occur?

Reviewed on 6/10/2021
postpartum complications
Most postpartum complications occur within 15 days after childbirth

Although childbirth gives rise to new life, unfortunately about 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications each year in the U.S. 

Not all postpartum complications turn serious, but chronic conditions such as heart disease, obesity, or high blood pressure can increase the risk of pregnancy-related death.

Most postpartum complications occur within 15 days after childbirth. It’s important to monitor your health after giving birth to look for any warning signs.

What are signs of postpartum complications?

After childbirth, you may be more focused on caring for your baby than yourself. This may result in neglecting your own health and missing some signs of complications that may occur within a few days, weeks, or even months after the delivery of your child.

Call your doctor right away if you experience any of these signs or symptoms:

Wound infection

Heavy bleeding 

Bleeding that is heavier than your normal period or that keeps increasing is a sign of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), or uncontrolled bleeding that occurs after delivery. This is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Breast redness and pain

Redness, pain, tenderness, or swelling in the breast may indicate an infection called mastitis.

Painful lumps in the breast

Hard, painful lumps in the breast may also be a sign of mastitis. Lumps are more likely to form because of breast engorgement, which occurs when you don’t release milk regularly or forget to clean your nipples after each feed.

Severe pain in your lower abdomen

You may have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or endometritis, which is inflammation in the lining (endometrium) of the uterus.

Foul-smelling vaginal discharge

This may be a sign of either endometritis or bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis occurs when good bacteria decreases in your vagina, leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

Pain or burning sensation while peeing

You may have a UTI and experience additional symptoms such as pain in the lower abdomen.

Pain, swelling, redness, or warmth in your legs

You may have deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is the formation of blood clots in the deep veins of the leg. Being overweight or being on prolonged bed rest can increase the risk of developing this condition.

Sudden shortness of breath

This may be a sign of pulmonary embolism. This occurs when blood clots due to DVT get lodged in the big (pulmonary) vein that carries blood to your lungs.

Changes in vision, dizziness, severe headache

You may have postpartum preeclampsia, characterized by high blood pressure and increased protein in your urine. Although rare, this is a serious condition that can lead to kidney and liver problems.

New-onset chest pain

This may be a sign of heart disease. Other signs of heart disease include breathlessness, chest pain radiating to the arms or back, and nausea.

Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) can fill you with feelings of anxiety and hopelessness caused by the sudden change in your life brought about by the birth of your baby. You may be unable to take care of yourself and your baby. In severe cases, PPD can lead to suicidal thoughts.

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References
Pregnancy-related deaths. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/maternal-deaths/index.html

Warning signs of health problems after birth. https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/warning-signs-of-health-problems-after-birth.aspx

Labor and delivery, postpartum care: Postpartum complications: What you need to know. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/postpartum-complications/art-20446702

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