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The most common reasons for cramps
The most common reason you have cramping after your baby is born is that your uterus contracts to shrink back down to its original size. While it contracts, your body is also working to compress blood vessels in the uterus to prevent too much bleeding.
The contractions are like mini versions of labor contractions and they’re sometimes called “afterpains” because, well, you get these pains after you deliver your little one.
The cramps may feel a lot like menstrual cramps — from mild to possibly severe at times — and they tend to be more noticeable with second or third pregnancies.
Afterpains are generally most uncomfortable in the first few days after delivery. They tend to fade away after that, but you may find they’re more noticeable when you’re breastfeeding.
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Afterpains don’t only affect people who give birth vaginally. Your uterus also contracts this way after you have a C-section. So, the same rules apply to the uterus and its need to return to its pre-pregnancy size.
That said, it’s important to note that you may have additional discomfort in your lower abdomen after a cesarean delivery. After all, it’s major surgery! You may feel cramping and soreness as your incision and the surrounding tissues heal.
That’s right — constipation. The thing nobody really talks about is pooping after delivery, but we went there.
You’ll likely have your first postpartum bowel movement within a few days of delivery. But you can also develop constipation, which may be caused by high progesterone levels in pregnancy, your diet (for example, low fiber intake), and lowered activity levels.
Constipation comes with cramping — and you may also just feel backed up or have some bloating and pressure.
This condition may be particularly likely if you’ve had a cesarean delivery. Why is this? Well, you may be spending some extra time in bed recovering after surgery. And certain pain medications may also slow down your digestive system and back you up, leading to cramping.
Infections and more
While less common, it’s possible to develop infections after giving birth. Some types of infections are more likely to develop than others. And it’s also important to note that you might feel pain and cramping that aren’t related to giving birth at all.
Possibilities include things like:
- Endometritis is inflammation of the uterine lining caused by infection. Other symptoms include fever, constipation, unusual vaginal discharge, and pelvic pain.
- Bacterial vaginosis is an infection caused by too much bad bacteria in the uterus. Other symptoms include a burning sensation when urinating, foul-smelling discharge, and itching/pain in the vulva.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI) impacts the ureters, bladder, urethra, and kidneys. Other symptoms include fever, painful or frequent urination, urgency to urinate, cloudy/bloody urine, and pelvic pain.
- Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix. While completely unrelated to childbirth, researchers note that it’s possible to experience appendicitis (and other conditions) in the postpartum period, but that with everything else going on, diagnosis may be delayed. Other symptoms include low-grade fever, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain that gets worse with movement, and diarrhea/constipation.
Why Does Cramping During Breastfeeding Occur?
The uterus is a muscle, and each pregnancy over-stretches the muscle. Nipple stimulation during breastfeeding causes a hormone known as oxytocin to be released into your bloodstream. This hormone causes the contraction of all smooth muscles and helps your uterus contract back into its pre-pregnancy shape and size. These contractions also help reduce postpartum blood loss, so although you may be uncomfortable, this cramping is helping your body heal.
What Can You Do About Postpartum Cramping?
Don’t be afraid to ask for pain medication while still in the hospital – it will be safe for you and your baby. You can also give yourself a gentle lower-stomach massage. These afterbirth pains almost always subside within a few days, but if they continue longer than that or if the pain becomes intense, reach out to your healthcare provider.