Postpartum Pain And Cramps: Causes And Ways To Get Relief

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You may believe that you have had your share of cramps and pains during pregnancy, but what is it that you are still experiencing after birth? After delivery, your body takes some time to return to its pre-pregnancy state, and in this duration, it is normal to have intense pains. MomJunction helps you understand all about postpartum cramping and ways to overcome them.

What Are Postpartum Cramps?

Postpartum cramps are uncomfortable pains, which signal that the body is getting back to its non-pregnant state. They remain for a few days after childbirth, and vary in their frequencies (1).

Common Postpartum Pain and Cramps:

Owing to the many changes that the body goes through postpartum, you could experience pains in various parts of the body:

1. Postpartum back pain:

You could have back pain due to the physical changes that your body undergoes during pregnancy. The physical stress during labor strains the back muscles causing pain, which remains until the muscles regain their strength back in a few months.

If you had back pain before pregnancy, there are high chances of having it after delivery. Being overweight or inactive also increases the risk (2).

[ Read: Precautions After Post Delivery ]

2. Postpartum abdominal pain – lower and upper:

Lower abdominal postpartum pain could be due to prolonged contractions of the uterus and breastfeeding. Sometimes, the pain could also be the result of complications such as genital infections or appendicitis or ovarian cyst torsion or cyst rupture (3). Upper abdominal pains are rare and may occur due to infections or gut inflammation. You should, however, let your doctor know about it.

3. Postpartum pelvic pain:

During pregnancy, hormones stimulate the pelvic bones to expand and contract to aid delivery. The ligaments loosen, and any activity (even walking) causes pelvic pain after pregnancy. Postpartum pelvic pain is also due to the tear in the pelvic tissues and muscles during delivery. Pelvic pain may also be associated with difficulty with urination, pain during bowel movements, and during intercourse (4).

4. Postpartum leg pain:

Postpartum leg cramps are common as the extra body weight during pregnancy exerts pressure on leg muscles. Postpartum hormonal changes relax joints and ligaments, adding to leg cramps. The intravenous fluids given during labor, sitting for a long time while nursing, lack of sleep, and deficiency of magnesium are other reasons for leg pain (5).

5. Postpartum hip pain:

Hip pain is normal especially after a vaginal delivery as the hips and pelvic bones undergo some trauma during delivery. If there is difficulty in delivering the baby, the use of forceps or vacuum could bruise, dislocate, or even fracture the hip area, causing further pain. But, if the pain is severe and lasts for more than two weeks, you should consult a doctor (6).

6. Postpartum chest pain:

Chest pain after pregnancy could be due to the physically strained muscles during labor or chest infection. It could also be a result of pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in lungs blocking the lung artery). Any severe pain, shortness of breath, or coughing up blood require immediate medical assistance (7).

7. Postpartum headaches during breastfeeding:

You may experience headaches during breastfeeding due to the oxytocin hormone. This is referred to as a lactation headache. It lasts from a few weeks or could continue until the baby weans off the breast feeding. These headaches could also be from fatigue, lack of sleep or could be a sign of preeclampsia. However, consult your doctor if you have constant headaches (8).

8. Postpartum stomach pain post-eating:

Stomach ache after consuming food is common due to gastric inflammation or poor digestion or occasionally due to anal incontinence. One could also experience uncontrollable gas that lasts for up to six months after delivery. If you have lactose intolerance or have a diet filled with whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, it can increase the risk of stomach pain along with cramps and discomfort (9).

9. Postpartum uterus pain:

The uterus takes about six to eight weeks to return to its pre-pregnancy size after childbirth. The contractions during resizing cause postpartum uterus pain and subside in time. These pains could be felt during breastfeeding and usually get stronger with subsequent pregnancies (10).

[ Read: Ways To Relieve Back Pain Post Delivery ]

10. Postpartum breast pain:

In the first week after childbirth, breasts feel bigger and tender due to the first breastmilk (colostrum). Irrespective of whether you breastfeed or not, there will be breast engorgement causing postpartum breast pain. The pain will go away in a few days, but if it stays longer, you should check with a doctor (11).

11. Postpartum thigh pain:

The pelvic region ligaments stretch during labor and cause sharp pains or dull aches that extend into the thighs. The pain is also attributed to pushing efforts during labor and exhausting muscles. It subsides in a few weeks (12).

Besides the above, the ribs ache, the abdomen begins to throb, the back turns sore, and the joints such as wrists, ankles, and others also hurt. These pains are due to the contractions and pressure that the body has gone through during labor. The positions while nursing and holding your baby also add to postpartum aches to body (13).

Causes Of Pain And Cramps After Delivery:

While pressure and strain on the body post delivery are the main causes of the pain, there are other reasons as well.

  • During pregnancy, the uterus expands up to 25 times its normal size and is as large as a basketball. It then shrinks to the size of a tiny pear. This shrinkage can cause afterbirth pains and cramps or ‘involution’ (14).
  • Breastfeeding is another cause for pains and cramps after pregnancy. The baby’s sucking stimulates the production of oxytocin, which leads to contractions and thus pain (15).
  • If you have had a C-section, then you will experience abdominal pain along with a pulling sensation that lasts for a few months (16).

How Long Do Afterbirth Pains Last (In Weeks)?

It takes about six to eight weeks for the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size, and severe pains last only for one or two days post delivery (17). If the pains last longer, then consult a doctor.

Pain and emotional stress, especially during breastfeeding, may have an adverse effect on milk production.

[ Read: Body Changes In Post Pregnancy ]

What Do Afterbirth Pains Feel Like?

Afterbirth pains are as severe as menstrual cramps and labor contractions. They are mild in the first-time moms, and worsen with subsequent deliveries as the first- time moms have a better uterine muscle tone compared to moms with multiple deliveries (18).

Home Remedies For Relieving AfterBirth Pains:

If your doctor gives you a go-ahead, then you can try these home remedies, which help relieve postpartum cramps.

1. Hot water compress:

Hot water treatment is the best way to cure the unpleasant abdomen tenderness and suffering as it loosens contracted uterus and improves blood circulation, thereby relieving lower abdominal and uterus pain (19).

2. Rice water:

Cook the rice in extra water and drink the strained water twice a day. This water soothes the stomach region, improves digestion and prevents constipation.

3. Ginger tea:

Ginger is anti-inflammatory, and an excellent astringent and antiseptic, which prevents pains and cramps after birth.

Make ginger tea by adding some grated ginger to a cup of boiling water. You can also add ten parsley leaves and boil them together for some time. Add honey to taste and have it twice a day (20).

4. Fennel tea:

Fennel seeds also have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that work on relieving post pregnancy pains (21).

Prepare fennel tea by adding two tablespoons of fennel seeds in two cups of water. Boil for ten minutes, cool it down, and add honey for taste. You could have it twice a day.

5. Warm water bath:

Bathing in warm water will alleviate hip and uterus pains. You could soak in a bathtub for about 30 minutes, but ensure that the temperature is not so hot. Try it twice a day to ease pains and soothe skin (22).

[ Read: Postpartum Constipation ]

6. Lemon tea:

Most postpartum problems are due to weakened immune system. You should take more vitamin C, which is abundant in lemon or Indian gooseberry.

Boil one cup of water, let it cool, and then add lemon juice squeezed from two lemons. Drink it twice a day to boost your immune system and it also helps in relieving stomach cramps (23).

7. Fresh mint:

Mint has soothing properties, which help relieve postpartum abdominal pains and headaches.

Add mint leaves to a cup of boiling water, and allow it to simmer for about ten minutes. Strain, cool it down, and add lemon juice before drinking. Drinking it twice a day will reduce the abdominal pains and cramps.

8. Chamomile tea:

Chamomile helps relieve pains due to uterine involution. It is considered safe by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

Add dry chamomile blossoms to a cup of boiling water. Allow it to steep for ten minutes, strain, and have it. You could add honey and lemon for additional flavor. Drink it twice a day to get relief from uterine contractions after delivery (24).

9. Oil massage:

You can ask your partner to gently massage your abdomen with oil mix. To make oil mix, take five drops lavender oil, ten drops cypress oil, 15 drops peppermint oil, and one-ounce carrier oil (jojoba, olive, sweet almond or coconut oil) (25). To massage, place hands on the navel and move in a circular motion, as this will stimulate contractions and make your uterus firm.

Some Other Measures On How To Ease Pregnancy Cramps:

Other than the home remedies, you can try some additional tips that help alleviate the pain and intensity of postpartum cramps.

  • Pee often: Pee often even if you do not have the urge. A full bladder makes you uncomfortable, displaces the uterus, and worsens cramps.
  • Deep breathing: Practice deep breathing techniques and meditation as they can help in uterus contraction and relieve you from afterbirth cramps.
  • Sleep face down: You may consider lying face down with a pillow under your belly. It will help you get rid of the pains.

If none of the above tips help, you may have to talk to your doctor to know about the best pain relief options.

[ Read: Postpartum Rectal Bleeding ]

Remember that taking good care of yourself is an important part of parenting. You must give yourself some time to heal to take care of your baby. If you are in pain, you cannot pay attention to your baby’s needs.

Did you experience postpartum cramps? Share your story with us in the comments section below.

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Dr. Anita Gondy

Dr. Anita Gondy is an Ob/Gyn at The Ob-Gyn Center in Las Vegas. In practice since 1998, Dr. Gondy began her medical training at Rangaraya Medical College in Kakinada, India and completed studies at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, where she also did an obstetrics and gynecology residency. She is also a Fellow member of The American College... more

Rebecca Malachi

Rebecca is a pregnancy writer and editor with a passion for delivering research-based and engaging content in areas of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-pregnancy. She has been into health and wellness writing since 2010. She received her graduate degree in Biotechnology and Genetics from Loyola Academy, Osmania University and obtained a certification in ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy’ from Ludwig... more