8 Post-Delivery Symptoms New Moms Should Never Ignore

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • After birth, your attention will likely be focused on your baby. But as a new mom, your body is healing too, and the early post-delivery period is a time when serious, even life-threatening, complications can appear. Fortunately, medical intervention can keep most of these complications from turning into a severe health crisis–if women seek immediate treatment. Whether you’re home coping with vaginal birth recovery or healing from a C-section, keep an eye out for these eight red flag symptoms that need to be addressed right away.

  • 1
    Heavy Bleeding
    Woman hygiene protection (sanitary)

    Postpartum hemorrhage is a rare but serious condition that can occur within 12 weeks after having a baby. Vaginal bleeding after birth is normal (whether you’ve had a C-section or vaginal birth), but if you soak more than one pad an hour or your bleeding is getting heavier rather than lighter over time, call your healthcare provider. Without treatment, postpartum hemorrhage can be fatal. Also watch for pale skin, chills, blurry vision, dizziness or fainting. These symptoms can also indicate postpartum hemorrhage and deserve immediate medical attention.

  • 2
    Shortness of Breath
    Woman holding chest to indicate heart attack

    After birth, new moms remain at increased risk of developing blood clots for 6 to 8 weeks. A blood clot that travels to the lungs can cause what’s known as a pulmonary embolism, a medical emergency that may be fatal. Signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include obstructed breathing or shortness of breath and sudden chest pain. A cough that brings up pink, frothy mucus is another red flag warning sign. If you experience shortness of breath or sudden chest pain after birth, call (or have someone else call) 911 immediately.

  • 3
    Severe Headache

    Mild headaches are common after birth. After all, you’re probably not getting much sleep and eating regular meals can be a challenge. But a headache that doesn’t go away after resting or taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be a sign of a problem, such as postpartum preeclampsia (a medical emergency characterized by high blood pressure) or an impending stroke. Headaches can also occur after an epidural; about 1 in 100 to 200 women who have an epidural for pain relief during childbirth will develop what’s called a post-dural headache and require medical treatment. Let your healthcare provider know about any headache that doesn’t resolve with typical comfort measures.

  • 4
    Leg Pain

    Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or a blood clot in a deep vein, is a rare complication that can occur during or after pregnancy. The legs are the most likely site of a DVT after birth, so be alert for leg pain, which may feel like you pulled a muscle. Redness, warmth and swelling in the legs can also be symptoms of a DVT. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your healthcare provider. Treatment can resolve the blood clot—and keep the clot from traveling to your lungs, where it could cause a possibly fatal pulmonary embolism.

  • 5
    Sudden Weight Gain

    Though pregnancy weight doesn’t drop off nearly as quickly as most moms would like post-birth, the general trend should be downward. If you suddenly gain a lot of weight, you could have postpartum eclampsia, a potentially fatal complication that can develop within 48 hours to 6 weeks after birth. Other symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia include swelling of the hands and feet, severe headache, blurred vision, upper abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, and decreased urination. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

  • 6
    Sick woman taking her temperature

    A fever is often a sign of infection, and after birth, you’re at risk for developing endometritis (an infection of the uterus) and mastitis (a breast infection). C-section incisions and episiotomies can also develop infections. Any temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit should be reported to your healthcare provider. Also watch for other signs and symptoms of infection, including redness, warmth and drainage (particularly foul-smelling drainage). Most infections are easily treated with antibiotics.

  • 7
    Breast Redness
    Baby breastfeeding

    Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, you’re at risk for mastitis, a breast infection, in the days and weeks after birth. The first sign of mastitis is usually a spot of redness on the breast; in some cases, you may even see a red streak on the surface of your breast. Other symptoms include fever, breast pain (particularly when breastfeeding), and feeling sick and run-down. Call your healthcare provider as soon as you notice any symptoms of mastitis. The sooner you receive treatment, the more comfortable you’ll be. 

  • 8
    Thoughts of Hurting Yourself or Your Baby
    Sad Mother Sitting In Empty Nursery

    It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and sad after the birth of your baby. You’ve just experienced a massive life change and your body is (once again) experiencing a major physical transition. For most women, these feelings subside gradually, over a few weeks. If you find yourself feeling worse instead of better, though—or if you ever think of hurting yourself or your baby—tell someone. Postpartum depression is a real, and very common, medical condition, and your healthcare provider can help you find a treatment plan so you can feel like yourself again.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 12
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