Abdominal pain is a common complaint of pregnant women. They may be dismayed to find that the pain often continues at least for the first few days postpartum, sometimes even longer. In most cases, abdominal pain is a normal, transient response to childbirth. However there are instances when postpartum abdominal pain is an indication of a serious condition. Women should stay in close contact with their doctors or midwives during the postpartum period so that any warning signs can be caught.
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Most women will experience afterbirth pains during the first few days after they deliver their babies. Afterbirth pains are a healthy side effect of the uterus shrinking back to its original size. This abdominal discomfort is often more intense during breastfeeding because breast stimulation triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which in turn contracts the uterus.
With U.S. cesarean birth rates hovering around 30 percent since 2005, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a fair amount of women will experience postpartum abdominal pain due to major surgery. The incision will be extremely sore initially, but the pain should become more manageable after a period of a few days, usually with the help of painkillers. Women who have cesarean births also experience afterbirth pains.
Baby Center recommends gentle belly massage, frequent urination and ibuprofen for abdominal pain relief. Women recovering from a cesarean should discuss pain management with their doctors. Midwifery Today notes the importance of rest and adequate postpartum care. Abdominal pain often increases with too much activity, so families might consider hiring a postpartum doula or having a family member or close friend who can take care of laundry, shopping, food preparation and any siblings during the immediate postpartum period.
Exercise, both pre- and post-natal, is a wonderful way to minimize abdominal pain after pregnancy. During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate the growing baby. As they stretch, they lose some of their strength, which can create discomfort as the back and pelvis overcompensate. Immediately after birth, women can begin to slowly restore lost abdominal strength with the approval of their birth professionals. Yoga, walking and swimming are all safe, low impact activities. The ACOG also recommends specific abdominal toning exercises such as leg slides, head lifts, kneeling pelvic tilts and modified sit-ups.
The ACOG advises women who experience fever, heavy bleeding or abdominal pain that gets progressively worse to contact their birth professionals immediately. These symptoms can be signs of serious infection.