There’s an idea that once you and your baby get to birth, you can breathe a sign of relief—because now that your baby is born, everything is cool on the health front. While that’s not necessarily a wrong way of thinking, health concerns are still possible in the postpartum time. It’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling and the sensations your body is giving you, because these feelings could be a sign of a more serious condition.
Chances are, you won’t be feeling anywhere close to 100% immediately after birth—soreness, aches, and bleeding are common and expected—but there is a line between normal postpartum discomfort and a burgeoning medical condition. There are important physical signs that something isn’t right and you need medical attention.
Here are the postpartum warning signs you should know.
Postpartum Warning Signs
- Vision changes (like blurriness, floaters, flashes of light)
- Fever of 100.4 or higher
- Swelling, especially in your arms or legs and especially when accompanied by redness or heaviness
- Bad headache that doesn’t go away with medication
- Dizziness or fainting
- Heavy bleeding, like soaking through more than one pad in an hour or noticing large blood clots
- Stitches or incision that doesn’t seem to be healing
Call 911 right away if you feel:
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
Postpartum Risk Factors
You may be more at risk of a postpartum health issue if you have experienced any of these health situations or conditions.
- High blood pressure (including during pregnancy
- Gestational diabetes
- Heart disease
- Cesarean birth
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Being over age 35
Postpartum Health Conditions
Health conditions that new parents can develop include postpartum hemorrhage, infection, sepsis, postpartum preeclampsia, blood clots, postpartum cardiomyopathy, stroke, high blood pressure, and more. Postpartum mood disorders are also considered health conditions.
The days and weeks immediately following birth are often emotionally and physically difficult. You’re learning how to care for and feed a new baby, while also recovering from one of the most intense physical experiences you’ve ever had. It’s easy to minimize or write off symptoms like pain or heart palpitations.
But you should stay vigilant and listen to your intuition. You know yourself and your body best. Nikki Hunter-Greenaway, nurse practitioner, lactation consultant and Major Care curriculum advisor, says, “I tell clients if anything is bothering you, connect with your doula, doctor, midwife, a trusted person. It’s almost like the saying “If you see something, say something. If you feel something, say something. Listen to your gut.”
Involve Your Support Network
While it’s important to know your own normal and monitor yourself, your after-birth support network is key here, too. Your partner, family members, medical providers and even your doula can play a role in monitoring you for postpartum warning signs. Hunter-Greenaway says, “I feel like we put so much pressure on the postpartum parent to reach out when we should be teaching the support (doulas and families) what to look for. Go over discharge paperwork with your support people. They need to know that fever, swelling, headaches, blurry vision and calf pain are all signs of a more serious condition.”
About Major Care: Major Care is a doula-led maternal health company on a mission to tackle America’s postpartum care gap. We blend the power of guided learning with the support of virtual postpartum experts to create a safer and more supported experience for parents while addressing a $14B+ problem for providers, employers and payers. The My Fourth app, which is free, blends self-guided learning with virtual care. It includes a postpartum prep toolkit and six full weeks of daily guides to life after birth, with videos and content covering physical recovery, emotional health, lactation, relationships, and baby care. The app also offers plans for texting and video sessions with a diverse team of on-call doulas and lactation experts.