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Potential Postpartum Complications To Be Aware of

Potential Postpartum Complications To Be Aware of

The new love of your life is here, commanding much (all?) of your energy and focus. But your body is still adjusting to your baby's big entrance, so you need to take care of yourself, too. The postpartum period is a time of recovery, healing, and a wide variety of physical and emotional changes. It’s especially important to give yourself time to rest during this period because your body is vulnerable, and pushing yourself even a little bit could go a long way–and not in the direction you want.

1. Postpartum infection

After birth, some women may have postpartum infections affecting the urinary tract, uterus (called a puerperal infection), cesarean section wound, perineum tear, the upper respiratory tract, or the breasts. There are additional potential contributing factors for women who have had the following conditions and/or procedures:

Potential contributing factors of postpartum infection:

  • Cesarean delivery
  • Diabetes
  • Prolonged labor
  • Anemia
  • Internal fetal monitoring
  • Preexisting pelvic infection
  • Multiple vaginal exams during labor
  • Obesity

Indicators of infection after birth include:

  • Fever
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Chest pain

See your doctor right away if you think you may have an infection. Infections should be promptly identified and managed to help reduce the likelihood of more serious ailments such as sepsis, pulmonary embolism, septic shock, or other complications.

2. Hemorrhaging

Postpartum hemorrhaging (PPH) is a rare complication that can happen up to 12 weeks after giving birth. It causes excessive bleeding, and its most common cause is the uterus not contracting strongly enough after the placenta is delivered.

Potential contributing factors:1

  • Uterine overdistension
  • Prolonged or rapid labor
  • Infection
  • Placenta problems
  • Preeclampsia
  • Obesity
  • Anemia


  • Heavy vaginal bleeding that doesn’t stop
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pale skin
  • Swelling and pain around the vagina or perineum

3. Stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain)

Having a stroke during pregnancy could happen to anyone, and while it is relatively uncommon to have a stroke during pregnancy, elevated levels of stress, blood pressure, and gestational diabetes may all increase the likelihood of experiencing a stroke during pregnancy.

Potential contributing factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Blood clots


  • Sudden numbness
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Sudden confusion
  • Severe headache for no obvious reason

It’s worth noting that these indicators of a stroke are sudden and appear to come from nowhere.2 If you believe you or someone else is experiencing a stroke, be sure to seek medical attention immediately.

4. Pulmonary embolism (internal blood clot in the lungs)

A blood clot is when platelets, proteins, and cells in the blood stick together, usually to stop external bleeding, but sometimes they can form internally. Some blood clots after birth—such as those passed through the vagina—are normal, but when a blood clot forms in a vein in the leg and travels to the lungs, it can cause pulmonary embolism, a serious, life-threatening postpartum complication. If you know of a family history of blood clots or pulmonary embolism, be sure to let your doctor know.

Potential contributing factors:4

  • C-section delivery
  • Previous blood clot, a blood clotting disorder, or family history of blood clots
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Pregnancy over age 35


  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Clammy skin
  • Pain, redness, swelling, or warmth in one leg

5. Postpartum preeclampsia (high blood pressure)

Preeclampsia is a type of high blood pressure that can be developed during or shortly after pregnancy. It is relatively rare in the United States, but unaddressed postpartum preeclampsia can lead to serious complications and should be addressed as soon as possible.

Potential contributing factors:

  • Obesity
  • Family history of postpartum preeclampsia
  • High blood pressure during pregnancy

Indicators of postpartum preeclampsia:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain

6. Postpartum depression

If you’re feeling down, overwhelmed, or just not yourself–it’s not always the baby blues. Mood swings that don’t go away or feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, or hopelessness can all be indicators of postpartum depression, which is a type of depression that affects moms after pregnancy.

Potential contributing factors:5

  • Hormonal changes
  • Personal or family history of depression, anxiety, or mental illness
  • Emotional stressors
  • Lack of support


  • Baby blues that don’t go away
  • Debilitating sadness
  • Overwhelming feelings of hopelessness or guilt
  • Severe anger
  • Not bonding with the baby
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feelings of harming baby or self

7. Peripartum cardiomyopathy (weakness of the heart muscle)

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a relatively rare condition where the heart is weak and enlarged. It usually occurs shortly after delivery. Many women experience mild indicators such as swelling in the feet or legs, and in more severe cases may be very short of breath. Many women recover quickly regardless of the severity.

Potential contributing factors:

  • A weak or injured heart
  • Obesity
  • Personal history of cardiac disorders such as myocarditis
  • Use of certain medicines
  • Smoking/alcoholism
  • Poor nourishment


  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Swelling in the legs

8. Mastitis (swollen breasts)

Mastitis is inflammation of breast tissue that may be caused by infection. Mastitis usually affects nursing moms, but anyone, including women who are not pregnant and men, could have mastitis.

Potential contributing factors:7

  • Nursing moms during the first six to 12 weeks of breastfeeding
  • Previous mastitis
  • Sore or cracked nipples

Indicators of Mastitis:

  • Swelling, redness, and pain in one or both breasts

About potential contributing factors:

Keep in mind that the above are just some of the potential contributing factors associated with each condition. Having a potential contributing factor doesn’t mean you will definitely develop a complication. Not having any potential contributing factors won’t rule out the chance that you could. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about your any uncertainties or concerns and what you could do to possibly reduce your chance of developing complications.

Indicators you should NOT Ignore

While you’re busy doting on your bundle of joy, it’s important not to ignore anything that could indicate a possible postpartum complication.

See your doctor if you have...

  • Bleeding that soaks a pad every hour for two hours
  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Pain at your cesarean incision site
  • A fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • Urinary problems including difficulty urinating, dark urine, or burning
  • Swelling, discharge, redness, or bleeding from your cesarean incision or episiotomy site
  • A hot, painful, and swollen area of the breast

Call 911 if you experience…

  • Weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden vision problems
  • Severe headache
  • Confusion or difficulty speaking
  • Chest pain
  • Red or swollen leg that’s painful or feels warm to the touch
  • Seizures
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby

Postpartum complication avoidance tips

Be proactive

Speak with your doctor about postpartum care before you deliver. Discuss your potential contributing factors for potential postpartum complications and determine if you may require extra postpartum care or specialized attention.

Know what to look out for

Understand what you can expect after childbirth and what could be a red flag that something isn’t right. Identifying an early indicator of a complication can help you manage it better than catching it late.

Keep communication open

You will typically have a comprehensive postpartum checkup within 3-6 weeks after giving birth. However, you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor earlier if you have any concerns.

More postpartum health resources

In the weeks following childbirth, it’s completely normal to have some discomfort and fatigue. But being aware of potential complication warning signs and paying attention to your body during this time could save your life. Explore our Tips and Resources section for more postpartum articles and videos, including:








All information, including but not limited to information about health, medical conditions, and nutrition, is intended for your general knowledge and is not a substitute for a healthcare professional's medical identification, advice, or management for specific medical conditions. You should seek medical care and consult your doctor, OB-GYN, or pediatrician for any specific health or nutrition issues. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment, care, or help because of information you have read on