A nurse and a mother with her newborn
By Elizabeth Garchar, MD

6 Health Problems New Moms Should Watch for After Giving Birth

In the U.S., there are 18 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births, with a higher risk for people of color. Patients need to understand the warning signs for serious pregnancy-related complications.

Having a baby is hard on your body. It’s normal to feel some pain and discomfort in the weeks after delivery. But some symptoms are not normal and might be a medical emergency.

It’s important to pay attention to your body and not ignore potential warning signs. All patients should go to their postpartum care visits—doctor appointments after giving birth.

If you have symptoms of any of these postpartum complications, call 911 or call Labor and Delivery Triage at 505-272-2460 right away:

Pregnancy-related health problems can cause serious illness or death. The risk is highest in the week after delivery. But some problems develop up to a year after giving birth.

In the U.S. Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women are three times as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women. UNM Hospital providers know that every patient deserves the best OB/Gyn care. We work hard to give all patients excellent maternity care before, during and after pregnancy.

Education is one of the best tools to help you advocate for your health. Please read this important information. Share it with your loved ones. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of post-delivery problems could save your life.

1. Heavy Bleeding

Most women will have some vaginal bleeding for two to six weeks after giving birth. This can happen even if you have a cesarean section (C-section). Bleeding may be a little heavier than a period at first and may include small clumps (clots). Normal bleeding should slow down a bit each day. 

You will notice more cramping when you breastfeed and may have more bleeding with breastfeeding, but that is good. Breastfeeding causes your body to release hormones that make your uterus get smaller and contract, which is good. You also will eventually restart your period. If your bleeding stops completely then begins again around or after 6 weeks postpartum, it may just be your first period.

Bleeding too much is called postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). Heavy bleeding can be caused by pieces of the placenta that weren't delivered, infection or poor contracting of the uterus after birth. PPH is a medical emergency that can cause serious illness or death without emergency care.

Get emergency care if you have bleeding that:

  • Fills more than a pad every hour.
  • Does not slow down after three to four days.
  • Slows down, then gets heavier or turns bright red soon after delivery.
  • Is combined with pain or cramping that is severe.

2. Infection

Giving birth can result in skin tears or C-section incisions that need stitches. Your doctor will explain how to care for these wounds. But even if you are careful, a wound may become infected.

When caught early, infections can be cured with antibiotics. Left untreated, infections can get worse quickly and become life-threatening.

Get emergency care if you have:

  • Chills with clammy or sweaty skin
  • Discharge at the wound site
  • Extreme or increasing pain
  • Fast breathing or heart rate
  • Fever of 100.4 F or higher
  • Redness at the wound site
  • Wound site is warm to the touch

3. High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure after having a baby is called postpartum preeclampsia. Most cases of occur within 48 hours of delivery. But high blood pressure can develop up to six weeks after giving birth.

Postpartum preeclampsia is a medical emergency. Left untreated, it can cause seizures, organ damage (including the kidneys and liver) and death.

Get emergency care if you have:

  • Decreased urination
  • High blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher)
  • Pain in the upper right belly or shoulder
  • Severe headaches
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Swelling in the legs, hands, or face
  • Trouble breathing
  • Vision changes (flashes of light in your vision or lasting dark spots)

4. Heart Failure

A rare heart failure condition can weaken the heart during or shortly after pregnancy. This condition, called peripartum cardiomyopathy, makes it hard to pump blood to the body.

In a healthy pregnancy, the heart pumps up to 50% more blood to nourish your growing baby. The exact cause of peripartum cardiomyopathy is not known. But the additional stress on the heart in pregnancy may play a role.

Known risk factors for peripartum cardiomyopathy include high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, smoking, being older than 30, and having twins or more.

Get emergency care if you have:

  • Chest pain
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Palpitations (your heart feels like it is skipping beats)
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the feet or ankles

5. Blood Clots

A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery in the lung. While rare, clots are one of the leading causes of maternal death. Blood clots often travel to the lungs from the legs. So, it is important to recognize the signs of blood clots in the legs.

Some women are at increased risk for blood clots after giving birth, including women who have a C-section, have high blood pressure, are obese, or are older than 35. Your doctor may recommend that you wear compression garments right after birth. You may need to wear them for a few weeks or months after delivery, too.

Get emergency care if you have:

  • A red or swollen leg that’s painful or warm to the touch
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing or gasping for air
  • Shortness of breath

6. Severe Depression

It’s normal to feel a little sad or weepy for a few weeks after having a baby. But 10% to 20% of women will experience postpartum depression—severe depression that can last for a long time. The symptoms can make it hard to care for yourself and your baby.

These intense feelings are not your fault, and help is available. With medication and therapy, you’ll begin to feel more like yourself.

Get emergency care if you have:

  • Anger or irritability that is severe
  • Extreme sleepiness or insomnia
  • Little interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Low energy
  • Sadness and feeling like crying a lot
  • Sense of hopelessness or panic
  • Severe mood swings
  • Trouble focusing or remembering things

A few final thoughts

Your baby needs you. Listen to your body and do not ignore your own health. If something doesn’t feel right, there might be something seriously wrong. Learn more [PDF] and you watch our Postpartum Education video below.

If you are worried about your health, call your OB/Gyn provider right away. If you think your life is in danger, call 911 or go to an emergency room.

We are here to take care of you. And it is always better to be safe than sorry


To find out whether you or a loved one might benefit from Ob/Gyn care
Categories: Women's Health