A postpartum woman should always discuss abdominal pain after delivery with a health-care provider. In most cases, the pain is a normal after-effect of the birth and the uterus' attempt to shrink back to its original size. In other situations, the woman may have a postpartum complication that requires medical treatment. Most women are observed for at least 24 hours following the birth of the baby to monitor for these types of complications.
The woman's uterus is normally small and closed prior to pregnancy. The baby grows inside the uterus, also called the womb. When labor begins, the woman's uterus contracts, mildly at first, to move the baby through the birth canal. During this process the cervix, or neck of the uterus, begins to thin and open. Uterine contractions increase as the cervix opens wider. Once the woman's cervix is fully open the baby will slowly emerge through the area and out of the vagina.
Once the baby and placenta are delivered, the body begins self-care tactics to stop the release of blood and other fluids that are still in the uterus. This is the body's way of repairing itself from the wound of delivering the baby. The cervical opening isn't a harmful wound, but it is still an opening in the body that can expel blood. By contracting, the body is creating pressure to stop bloodshed. A woman may recognize these contractions for several hours or longer following the delivery of the baby. Sharp pains should be discussed with a health care provider, as the contractions should be significantly milder than those the woman just experienced in labor.
Lochia, the tissues and bloody fluids that flow from the vagina following the birth of a baby, can be quite heavy shortly after giving birth. With each uterine contraction, called after-birth pains, more uterine contents can be expelled, states the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The contents of the vaginal discharge goes from bright red and moderate in volume to pink, brown and then yellow before it stops. It isn't unusual for a woman to experience after-birth pains until the lochia has stopped.
Some birthing facilities and hospitals administer a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin to encourage the uterus to contract forcefully once the baby has been delivered. The purpose of this is to expel the placenta and insure no tissues are left behind that can cause infection. Every two to four hours a nurse or health care professional will check a woman's abdomen to see if her uterus is shrinking back to its normal size. The provider may administer a few firm pushes or tissue massage to the abdominal area to trigger a uterine contraction, states the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. This can be painful for the woman, but it is helpful in preventing infection and hemorrhaging.
Breastfeeding after birth causes the uterus to contract. This is a natural response in the body that also helps the woman's uterus shrink and heal from delivering the baby. Brigham and Women's Hospital explains that a mother who has given birth before may experience more intense after-birth pains because her uterus must work harder to return to pre-pregnancy size.
When necessary, a woman can take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, to manage the pain after delivery. A warm compress or a heated blanket also can diminsh pain. Postpartum mothers should discuss any over-the-counter pain relief medicines with a health care professional, especially when breastfeeding, to minimize the potential risks to the newborn and other complications. Brigham and Women's Hospital recommends breathing and relaxation techniques, such as those used during labor, to cope with the after-birth pains.