Throughout pregnancy the uterus changes significantly – in size, shape, position and even muscle tone – to accommodate your growing baby and after birth it starts the process of returning to its non-pregnant state. 

This process, called involution, starts immediately after the placenta has been delivered after the birth of your baby and progresses quite quickly over the following few days.

Immediately after birth the muscles of the uterus contract to prevent heavy blood loss at the site where the placenta was attached to your uterus. If it is your first time giving birth you may experience mild discomfort or cramping in your belly, like menstrual cramps, or perhaps not even notice these contractions. In subsequent pregnancies these afterpains are generally more intense and you may find you need to use breathing exercises or other pain management tools to help. These afterpains can affect you regardless of the type of birth you have – vaginal or caesarean – and will ease within a few days or a week.

If you are breastfeeding/bodyfeeding, you might notice these pains are more intense (and that postpartum blood flow increases) during feeds in those first few days. This is because the hormone that your body releases to stimulate contractions both during and after birth – oxytocin – is also released while you are feeding. One of the many benefits of initiating feeding immediately after birth is that it stimulates the uterus to contract which helps to decrease blood loss and reduces the risk of heavy blood loss (postpartum haemorrhage).

Tips for dealing with afterpains:

  • Place a hot water bottle, warm bean/wheat bag or heat pack on your abdomen.
  • Use the same relaxation & breathing techniques that you found helpful during labour/birth.
  • Do some gentle walking or movement when you feel up to it.
  • Empty your bladder. A full bladder can get in the way of the uterus as it tries to contract.
  • If you find you need extra help, speak to your care provider about safe medication options.

As we’ve mentioned before, the uterus is quite wondrous and likes to show off a bit, but don’t let this fool you into thinking you should be “bouncing back” after pregnancy quite so quickly. Remember that your body experiences a range of physiologic changes during the postpartum period and that caring for a newborn puts even more strain on your body. Be gentle with yourself!

Sources

  • Pregnancy, Childbirth, And The Newborn (2016-5th Edition) –  Penny Simkin, Janet Whalley, Ann Keppler, Janelle Durham and April Bolding
  • Maternity and Women’s Health Care (11th Edition) – Deitra Leonard Lowdermilk, Mary Catherine Cashion, Shannon E. Perry, Kathryn Rhodes Alden