Afterbirth Pains: What Causes Them?

Many moms experience some pain and cramping after giving birth. These postpartum discomforts are so common there’s a name for them: afterbirth pains. Let’s run through the causes of these uterine contractions new moms may experience, what’s normal, and what you can do to ride through them.

What causes afterbirth pains?

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To understand what causes afterbirth pains, it may help to consider what’s happening to your body after delivery. Your uterus goes through a lot in the last months of pregnancy: expanding many times its normal size to accommodate your growing baby.

Your body has to go through many changes, such as increasing blood volume to support the baby’s nutrition and shuffling around your other internal organs to make room.

After giving birth, things get back in order. For that to happen, your uterus has to shrink back down from a structure that can hold up to 10 L volume to one that holds about a teaspoon. What you feel as after-birth pains are uterine contractions that bring your uterus down to its normal size.

What do afterbirth pains feel like?

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Not everyone experiences afterbirth pains in the same way, and the severity of the pain varies from person to person. Some mothers feel period pain-like afterbirth pain, but other mothers experience as painful afterbirth pain as labor pain.

About half of first-time Moms get these abdominal pains, but around 90% do after a second or subsequent birth, and the pain may be more intense than with a first child. This is because the muscle tone of the uterus decreases the more times you give birth.

A curious feature of afterbirth pains is that they may be made worse by breastfeeding. This is because breastfeeding stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract. On the plus side, though, oxytocin prevents postpartum hemorrhage. It’s also the “love hormone” responsible for making stronger emotional bonding between you and your new baby!

How long do afterbirth pains last?

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Afterbirth pains can be intense, but hang in there. It usually takes around 5 to 6 weeks for your uterus to return to its normal size, but the worst of afterbirth pains are generally over within the first day or 2 days after delivery.

Even if your afterbirth pains are in the normal range, don’t hesitant to speak to your doctor or midwife if you’re concerned – particularly if you are breastfeeding. Physical pain and emotional stress can both have a negative effect on your milk production, so there’s no reason to suffer through pain in silence. Feeling supported and comfortable will help the milk flow again.

Making it through afterbirth pains

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Afterbirth pains tend to be worse with subsequent pregnancies. But rest assured, afterbirth pains won’t hurt you: in fact, they’re part of your body’s healing process.

For the time being, your doctor and midwife will be the best port of call when it comes to pain relief. In the meantime, hang in there: the worst of the postpartum cramps should be over after the first couple of days. They’re a sign of your body bouncing back from pregnancy and into motherhood!