Postpartum Complications
June 14, 2024

Early Signs of Postpartum Complications: What to Look Out For

Experiencing the arrival of a new baby is a joyful and life-changing experience for parents. However, the postpartum period, the first six weeks after childbirth, can be a challenging time as the mother's body undergoes significant changes to recover from pregnancy and delivery. While many mothers recover without complications, some may experience postpartum complications that require immediate medical attention.  

Recognizing the early signs of potential complications during pregnancy is crucial. By staying informed about these symptoms, expectant mothers can seek prompt medical care, which can greatly influence the pregnancy's outcome. This blog talks about early signs of postpartum complications to help you understand what to watch for and when to seek medical help. 

What are Postpartum Complications? 

Postpartum complications can occur for various reasons, including infections, cardiovascular issues, and mental health challenges. Preventing major health issues requires early discovery and treatment. Knowing the warning signs can make a significant difference in outcomes for new mothers. 

1. Postpartum Hemorrhage (PPH) 

One of the most serious postpartum complications is excessive bleeding, known as postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). PPH usually develops within 24 hours of delivery; however, it can sometimes arise up to 12 weeks later. It is distinguished by profuse bleeding that goes through more than one sanitary pad each hour or the passage of big blood clots. Other symptoms include dizziness, fainting, a rapid heart rate, and low blood pressure. If not treated promptly, PPH can lead to severe blood loss and shock . 

2. Infections 

Infections are another common postpartum complication that can occur in the uterus (endometritis), at the incision site of a cesarean section, or in the perineal area. Symptoms of an infection include a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, and pain or swelling at the incision or perineal area. Untreated infections can cause major health difficulties, so it's crucial to check for these indicators and seek medical attention if necessary.  

3. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) 

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a disorder in which blood clots form in deep veins, typically in the legs. This can be a risk if the clot spreads to the lungs and causes a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms of DVT include swelling, redness, warmth, and pain in one leg, typically the calf. The affected leg may feel tender, and the pain may worsen when walking. It is important to seek medical attention immediately if these symptoms are observed. 

4. Postpartum Preeclampsia 

Preeclampsia is a disorder that causes high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine during pregnancy, but it can also occur after birth. Postpartum preeclampsia typically occurs within 48 hours to six weeks after delivery. Warning signs include severe headaches that do not respond to medication, vision changes such as blurriness or light sensitivity, and swelling in the face, hands, or legs. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to avoid consequences like seizures or stroke.  

5. Cardiovascular Issues 

Heart-related complications can also arise during the postpartum period. Peripartum cardiomyopathy, a type of heart failure that occurs during the last month of pregnancy or up to five months postpartum, can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, extreme fatigue, and a rapid heartbeat. These symptoms should not be ignored, as they may indicate serious cardiovascular issues that require immediate medical attention. 

6. Mental Health Conditions 

Mental health issues are common postpartum complications, ranging from the "baby blues" to more severe conditions such as postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum psychosis. Postpartum depression symptoms include continuous melancholy, hopelessness, significant mood fluctuations, difficulties bonding with the infant, and suicidal ideation. Postpartum psychosis is a rare but significant mental illness that can cause hallucinations, delusions, and severe agitation. If these symptoms appear, seek immediate medical attention, as early intervention can result in better outcomes.  

When to Seek Medical Attention 

It's important to seek medical attention promptly if any of these symptoms occur. Early identification and treatment can greatly improve the outcomes for new mothers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) recommends that postpartum visits be planned within the first three weeks of birth, followed by a full evaluation at 12 weeks. Additional visits may be necessary for those with specific health risks. 

Prevention and Management of Postpartum Complications

While not all postpartum complications can be prevented, taking proactive steps can help manage risks. Discussing health history with an OB/GYN during pregnancy, attending all postpartum checkups, and staying in close contact with a healthcare provider if any unusual symptoms arise are essential measures. Developing a postpartum care plan before delivery and having support systems in place can also make a significant difference in managing postpartum health. 

Related Read - Nourishing the New Mother: Ayurvedic Postnatal Care Practices 

The postpartum period is a critical time for new mothers as they adjust to life with their newborns. Recognizing the early signs of postpartum complications can save lives and ensure a smoother recovery. Staying aware and vigilant allows new moms and their families to take proactive efforts to treat any health issues that develop, safeguarding the health of both mother and baby. Always consult with healthcare providers for personalized advice and care, and do not hesitate to seek help if any concerning symptoms occur. 


1. When to Worry About Postpartum Bleeding? 

Postpartum bleeding, known as lochia, is normal and can last for several weeks. However, if you suffer excessive bleeding that soaks through more than one sanitary pad per hour, pass large blood clots, or observe a rapid increase in blood flow, get medical assistance right once since these could be indicators of postpartum hemorrhage.  

2. When to Worry About Postpartum Pain? 

Postpartum pain is common as your body recovers from childbirth. However, if you have persistent or severe pain that does not improve with over-the-counter pain medication, pain accompanied by fever, or pain at the incision site that worsens, these could indicate complications such as infection or deep vein thrombosis and require medical evaluation. 

3. What Postpartum Symptoms Should Not Be Ignored? 

Several postpartum symptoms should prompt immediate medical attention, including heavy bleeding, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, severe headaches, vision changes, swelling or pain in one leg, fever, and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. The following symptoms could be signs of serious conditions like postpartum hemorrhage, preeclampsia, or postpartum depression. 

4. What Pain Is Normal Postpartum? 

Normal postpartum pain includes discomfort from uterine contractions, commonly known as "afterpains," especially during breastfeeding. Pain at the site of an episiotomy or cesarean incision, as well as general soreness in the muscles used during delivery, is also expected. These pains typically improve over time and with appropriate self-care measures. 

5. What Is the 5-5-5 Rule for Postpartum? 

The 5-5-5 rule is a guideline for postpartum rest: spend the first five days after birth in bed, the next five days around the bed, and the following five days doing light activities around the house. This rule helps ensure adequate rest and recovery during the initial postpartum period. 

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