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Don't Ignore These Postpartum Symptoms

New mother holds her baby thinking about postpartum symptoms

In the haze of new parenthood, it’s easy for moms and dads to focus only on their baby. But the days and weeks after delivery can be a vulnerable time for birthing patients too.

Postpartum complications can impact roughly 14 percent of patients and are commonly linked to cardiovascular disease, hypertensive disorders, pulmonary embolism, delayed hemorrhage and infections.

While some patients are entering pregnancy with a condition that could put them at increased risk of a complication such as high blood pressure, other patients may experience a complication without any underlying health conditions. Therefore, it’s important for all birthing patients to be on the lookout for potential warning signs. These can include:

  • Significant postpartum bleeding resulting in a patient soaking through a pad for several hours in a row
  • Severe headache that doesn’t go away with Tylenol
  • Dizziness or feeling like you are about to faint
  • Fever higher than 100.4
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Bloody discharge that becomes malodorous
  • Initially feeling better but then experiencing severe pain
  • Redness or discharge around a C-section incision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Symptoms are more common in the days after delivery but sometimes patients can develop symptoms weeks later. For example, bleeding that persists for weeks could be a sign of a partially retained placenta. Flu like symptoms could be the sign of mastitis, a painful inflammation of breast tissue that could lead to infection.

Steven Fleischman, MD, associate chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale New Haven Hospital says while the typical six-week appointments are important, patients should contact their care provider if they ever have any concerns throughout the postpartum experience.

“Most of us are looking at postpartum as no longer being six weeks and done, but rather a year out,” Steven Fleischman, MD, associate chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale New Haven Hospital. “Making phone calls and being a little bit more in touch and checking in at different points is going to be really important.”

In addition to addressing the more immediate physical symptoms that can arise after delivery, Dr. Fleischman says proper follow up care is needed for any patient who has a complication during pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes.

New parents and their loved ones should also keep an eye on any concerning emotional changes. It’s normal for patients to experience the “baby blues” during the first two weeks of parenthood, but ongoing mental health struggles including feeling weepy, trouble sleeping or loss of interest could be a sign of postpartum depression.

“It’s important that people recognize that just because you have depression doesn’t mean you did something wrong. I think all too often people feel like it means they are not a good parent if they ask for help. But the transition to being a new parent is a really difficult thing and when we say it takes a village, it really does take a village,” said Dr. Fleischman.

Just like with any concerning physical symptoms, patients worried about emotional changes should call their provider. They can help guide next steps, whether it means connecting with a psychiatrist or getting a prescription for a medication that can help with depression and anxiety.