Be aware of these postpartum complications

August 27, 2020 | by Linda Anderson, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

After having a baby, you can expect some pain and discomfort in the weeks that follow. This is normal.

Women should also be aware of the more serious complications that can happen in the 6-week period after giving birth, also known as the postpartum period.

Post-delivery complications shouldn’t be ignored. About 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications each year in the U.S., and about 3 in 5 pregnancy-related deaths could be prevented, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After having a baby, it’s important to be aware of postpartum complications (between birth and six weeks postpartum) and alert your doctor if you experience any of these:

  • Excessive bleeding (hemorrhage). While bleeding for about 2-6 weeks is normal after giving birth, it should begin to slow. Some women experience excessive bleeding, usually in the 1-2 weeks following delivery, which may be caused by a retained placenta, infection or other issues.
  • Infection and sepsis. Some women experience infections (uterine, urinary, wound, upper respiratory, and mastitis) after birth. When caught early, an infection can be resolved with antibiotics. However, if an infection advances and is left untreated, it can lead to sepsis, abscesses, pulmonary embolism, septic shock and more.
  • Stroke. Approximately 50% of strokes occur postpartum. The highest risk periods appear to be the delivery period and up to two weeks postpartum, but the risk can continue up to six weeks postpartum.
  • Cardiomyopathy and heart disease. Some postpartum women are at risk for peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare type of heart failure that weakens the heart muscle and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. Some risk factors include hypertension, obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, smoking and advanced maternal age.
  • Pulmonary embolism. This is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs often caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from the legs. Some risk factors include obesity, C-section birth, prolonged labor, hypertension, dehydration, and advanced maternal age.
  • Depression and anxiety.  Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) affect up to 1 in 5 women during pregnancy and after giving birth. While symptoms usually resolve within a week or two after delivery, sometimes symptoms continue and worsen. Learn more about PMADs.
  • Complications related to substance use disorder. The number of drug poisoning and opioid- related maternal deaths has drastically increased in Illinois over the past several years. Between 2008 and 2016, pregnancy-associated deaths related to any drug poisoning nearly tripled and related to opioid poisoning increased almost 6-fold. Explore addiction services.

The overall risk of dying from a pregnancy-related complication is low, but women with chronic conditions, such as obesity, heart disease or high blood pressure are at greater risk.

Fortunately, many postpartum complications can be treated successfully if identified early. If you have any of the following warning signs, seek immediate help:

  • Severe bleeding that hasn’t slowed
  • Pain that increases or chest pain
  • Fever of 100.4 F or higher
  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Shortness of breath, feeling faint upon standing
  • An incision that isn’t healing
  • A red or swollen leg that's painful or warm to the touch
  • Feelings of being cold
  • A headache that doesn’t go away, vision changes
  • Seizures
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby

It’s very important to take care of yourself, listen to your body and alert your doctor if you have any concerns.

Edward-Elmhurst Health began an initiative in our Emergency Departments to increase awareness among new moms and healthcare providers of postpartum complications that new moms can experience.

All postpartum patients receive a teal wristband (representing female strength) inscribed with “Edward-Elmhurst Health Cares About Moms” to wear until their 6-week postpartum visit. If a new mom develops physical or emotional issues during that timeframe, the bracelet can help alert emergency medicine paramedics and Emergency Department staff that she has recently given birth.

Learn more about our pregnancy and baby services.

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