Labour and Pain Relief - Information about Labour and the options on Pain Relief
How to Manage Pain After Pregnancy
After giving birth, you may experience a wide range of unexpected aches and pains. The good news is that you can manage this discomfort fairly easily, and most types of post-pregnancy pain don't last very long.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
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Pregnancy pain can transition into a host of new pains after labor, most of which will go away in the next few weeks and months. Preparing for the possibility of epidural pain, breastfeeding pain, and pain related to tears or incisions will help you be prepared for life after delivery.
“Those first few weeks post-partum feel like an eternity,” says obstetrician-gynecologist Amanda Calhoun, MD, MPH, assistant director of women’s health for Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Richmond. “However, after three months almost every woman feels much better.”
If you’re worried about how you will manage pain after childbirth, stock up on water and take a deep breath: Dr. Calhoun recommends hydration and patience as the keys to surviving post-pregnancy pains. After you’ve given birth, it’s also appropriate to take ibuprofen for temporary relief from aches and pains. Read on for other tips to ease post-childbirth pain.
Abdominal Pain After Childbirth
In the immediate aftermath, you may be most aware of pain below your waist:
- Uterine contractions.Your uterus has to return to its normal size after delivery. Breastfeeding encourages this process and may seem to trigger the pain. These contractions can be very painful, especially for second and third deliveries.
- Incisions.If you gave birth by cesarian (C-section), you will likely have incision pain for a few days in addition to the pain of uterine contractions. You will probably need narcotic pain remedies for a day or two, after which ibuprofen can help manage pain. Unlike other types of post-labor pain, incision pain may be with you for several months as you heal, although it is most acute in the days immediately following delivery. Call your doctor right away if the C-section incision becomes red, hot to the touch, bleeds, or oozes pus.
- Vaginal or perineum pain.Tears or incisions in this area can remain painful for a week to 10 days as you heal. “Sitting in a sitz bath or low shower water, coupled with a Motrin, will help,” says Calhoun, adding that you should call your doctor if you have a fever or any pus or blood in the area. A sitz bath simply means taking a bath for 20 to 30 minutes to submerge your buttocks and hips in warm water.
- Vaginal dryness.Women who are breastfeeding are especially vulnerable to severe vaginal dryness after giving birth. Your doctor can provide you with an estrogen cream to ease the dryness.
Breastfeeding is usually not painful, says Calhoun. However, some women may experience pain, which can be remedied fairly easily:
- Breastfeeding pain during feeding.You want your baby to open his mouth wide and take in not just the tip of your nipple, but all or most of the areola, the darker skin around the nipple. This sucking position is called the latch. A bad latch is a common cause of pain. Infants and new mothers often need to learn and practice a correct latch to help manage pain. A lactation consultant or maternity nurse may be able to help you.
- Engorgement.Breasts may be painful when your milk first comes in and at other times when they are very full. This is called being engorged. You can lessen the pain by relieving your breasts of milk, either through a feeding, using a breast pump, or hand expressing. A warm-water shower may also help.
- Bacterial infection.If one or both of your breasts are red, sore, and hot to the touch, you may have a bacterial infection called mastitis. See your doctor for a prescription antibiotic to manage this infection. You do not need to stop breastfeeding your baby if you have mastitis.
- Yeast infection.A painful, burning sensation in and around your nipples could be due to a yeast infection. Contact your doctor for help in treating a yeast infection and managing the pain.
Back and Shoulder Pain
Back pain is common during pregnancy. You may find that you still have back pain after delivery, although for different reasons, including the strain of labor and delivery or using an awkward posture while holding or breastfeeding your baby.
Calhoun recommends changing your posture, taking warm baths, and building in lots of time for healing after delivering the baby.
You may experience more frequent or more severe headaches after delivery. This can be due to changing hormones, stress, and sleeplessness. However, Calhoun adds that dehydration often plays a leading role in headaches.
“Most new mothers do not realize how dehydrated they are,” she says. Dehydration is especially likely if you are breastfeeding. Try to keep a full bottle of water close by to sip throughout the day. If drinking water doesn’t help ease a headache, it’s fine to take over-the-counter pain medications, but if they don’t work, you should contact your doctor.
You may also experience pain in joints throughout your body, including your hands, wrists, feet, and ankles. These pains may be due to the position you were in during delivery and recovery. Your joints may also still be affected by the chemical changes during pregnancy that caused them to loosen.
“All of the muscular and joint aches really do go away,” assures Calhoun. Applying warmth and taking an over-the-counter pain medication can help in the interim.
Carpal tunnel syndrome, pain in your wrists due to compression of nerves as they travel through the wrist to the hand, can take longer to go away. Try wrist braces if carpal tunnel pain is a problem for you, but visit a doctor if the pain doesn’t resolve in a few months.
Women who gave birth by C-section or had a long labor induction may have leg pain because of the large amount of fluids they were administered intravenously. The swelling will subside and the pain will ease as the fluids go down. As you’re watching this happen, be alert for signs of blood clots, such as redness and tenderness to the touch, especially in the backs of the legs. These signs warrant an immediate call to your doctor.
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