After Pains: How You Feel After Giving Birth

Contractions After Birth

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Congratulations! You just had a baby and you're looking forward to a well earned break. Only, you notice that you are still having contractions. What the heck? First of all, do not panic! Your body knows what it's doing and these contractions are nothing like the contractions from labor.

These contractions immediately after birth help your uterus shrink down and to help prevent you from bleeding too much after giving birth.

They also help you expel the placenta immediately after the birth.

After Pains and Your Shrinking Uterus

After pains are the name given to contractions that occur after labor and you have given birth. These contractions signal the process of involution, the process of your uterus shrinking back down to its prepregnancy size and shape. It took nine months for your uterus to grow, and it nows needs to return to a close to original size. They are not a cause of concern as every woman will go through this process after giving birth.

Your uterus has spent the last nine months of pregnancy growing nearly twenty-five times its original size. The contractions after the birth help it shrink back down. This process occurs relatively quickly, in about four to six weeks.

"I really was surprised at the fact that I still looked pregnant right after having a baby," said Sharon. "The nurse was quick to explain that it wouldn't take forever, it would just feel like forever.

I still looked at least six months pregnant when I went home the next day. How is that fair?"

Second Time Mothers and After Pains

While after pains are not a reason to worry, they can cause discomfort or even pain. Some mothers will notice them more than others, particularly if this is not your first baby.

Some say that the after pains increase after each subsequent baby, though not everyone reports this to be true. For pain, you can use comfort measures like warm packs (with your practitioner's approval), massage of the fundus through your abdomen, and certain medications (over the counter medication works well for most women.).

You may notice these contractions most intensely in the first few days after giving birth. You may also notice them more when you nurse or breastfeed. This happens because the uterus is still sensitive to the oxytocin released while nursing. Some mothers find that trying to ensure that they are using their comfort measures or medications immediately before breastfeeding can ease the discomfort while nursing.

"I remember when I first felt them, explains Amanda. "It was after my first baby was born. I was all cleaned up and in my postpartum room. I felt like we were all finally alone together. I started to nurse and then I felt it. I screamed for my husband to wake up!  How could I still be having contractions? I was half panicked that there was another baby in there. Thankfully they only lasted a few days. I can't even tell you when I last felt them because they just sort of faded in my memory."

Many mothers have not heard about after pains. Most childbirth classes do discuss them. They also give practical solutions for what to do if you experience them. (Basically anything that worked in labor, also works in the postpartum period, including over the counter pain medications - ask which ones work best.)

Do not be concerned if you do not feel after pains. Not every mother feels them. This does not mean that your uterus is not healing or shrinking. Ask your postpartum nurse to help you learn to feel your uterus, then you can check it's progress for awhile to reassure yourself. The good news is that you will stop feeling them relatively shortly.

If you have any particular concerns, be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife for advice.


Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Sixth Edition.

Pregnancy, Childbirth & The Newborn by Simkin, Whalley, Keppler, Durham & Bolding. Fourth Edition.

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