New mothers may be disappointed to discover that abdominal muscle pain does not end with childbirth. It continues for at least the first few days postpartum, sometimes even longer, depending on the cause. In most cases, it is normal, but women should nonetheless remain in close contact with their doctors or midwives so any serious indications may be caught.
What is Normal
As the uterus contracts to its normal size, a mother will experience afterbirth pains. They are usually more intense during breastfeeding and with each subsequent birth. Afterbirth pains usually stop within three or four days postpartum.
Abdominal muscles are significantly weakened and stretched out after the typical 40-week pregnancy. They may feel slightly sore as they adapt to the body’s new normal, which could take months.
Cesarean birth causes intense abdominal pain that may last for weeks.
What Is Abnormal
Abdominal pain should consistently improve, even in the case of cesarean birth. Worsening pain could signal a serious infection, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Women should contact their doctors or midwives immediately if this is the case.
According to Carla Makhlouf in Cultural Perspectives on Reproductive Health, belly binding has been practiced worldwide for centuries. Each culture has a different name for the practice of tightly wrapping a mother’s abdomen with cloth during the immediate postpartum period. This keeps the stomach muscles tight and helps the mother regain her core strength. Some cultures believe belly binding helps move stagnant blood through the body.
The ACOG recommends an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for most abdominal pain. Doctors will discuss management of cesarean pain with patients, but usually it involves a combination of over-the-counter pain relievers and narcotics such as hydrocodone or oxycodone.
Midwives advocate the use of herbs for postpartum abdominal muscle pain. Midwifery Today recommends motherwort, cramp bark, cottonwood bark, black haw, lavender, chamomile and lemon balm. These herbs may be taken as a tea or tincture. Don't take herbs for any purpose without a doctor's approval.
- Cultural Perspectives on Reproductive Health; Makhlouf, Carla; Oxford University Press, 2001
- Midwifery Today: Herbs for Mother’s Care Postpartum