Afterpains - WTF?!?

Postpartum mama’s often are bombarded with unrealistic expectations, from the simplicity of breastfeeding to the expectation that your baby will sleep through the night and don’t even get me started on the ‘bounce back’ culture. This is why, I think it’s so important to be honest about the 4th trimester and to set families up to succeed during this period of transition. Here is the first in my series of truths about the postnatal period.


Once your baby has been born you are not only left with a child to take care of (with too many manuals and opinions on how to do that) you are also recovering from a major event physically. However you have birthed your baby your body has the knock on effects of this, your milk will be coming in, your hormones off the scale and you’re losing a significant amount of blood every day.


The rule of thumb I try to drum into the parents I support is a week in bed and a week on the sofa. But why should you be taking it so slowly in those first days after you’ve had you baby? The western culture of look at me, I’m up and about, wearing heels and sipping coffee in the Ivy is toxic. This idea of the wonder mum, that bounces back, gets on with life and is running around after her toddler while feeding a week old baby with her hair perfectly coiffed actually makes me want to cry.



Not only should a new mother not be running around and worrying what she looks like, she should be the one being looked after, as many other cultures do. At the very least think of the trauma her body has just been though, even the simplest of births still leaves a wound the size of a dinner plate in your uterus - could you imagine if that injury was external how it would be reacted to? The placenta is attached to the internal wall of the mother’s uterus and when it comes away it will leave what is essentially a hole in that wall. This area needs to heal and like any part of your body, rest and good nourishment is what will help that.


Your uterus then needs to not only heal and repair this wound, it also starts to shrink back down to its original size. Remember is has grown from the size of an avocado to the size of a watermelon. Because the reduction in size happens a lot faster than the slow stretch and growth over 40 weeks of pregnancy, often a mother will experience something known as afterpains. Which are cramps due to the sensation of your uterus contracting back down to size. Sadly these don’t have the build and fall that labour contractions do and can be a sharp sudden pain, that only come in short bursts.


After each pregnancy the muscles need to work harder baby to bring the womb back down in size as a result these sensations are more noticeable and often more painful after each child. This can be scary if you’re not prepared for it. Much like the contractions in labour, these are produced as a result of the right mixture of hormones being released, mainly oxytocin (which I refer to as the gas to the uterus engine). Oxytocin is released when breastfeeding, so it’s not unusual for these pains to happen when the baby latches to feed. Maybe nature’s way of giving us a distraction from the cramps as we focus on our baby, but more likely a signal to remind our body baby is now out and to act. If you’re not prepared for this sensation to happen when your newborn latches it can add to the discomfort of breastfeeding and sadly for some may be another knock that sets the mother off the path of feeding their baby.


Be reassured though, these pains do not last long normally a couple of days and you can take over the counter pain relief to help.


Our bodies are made to heal and recover from pregnancy and birth, but we have to give them the right environment to do this. This starts by planning your fourth trimester and speaking to family, friends and maybe a postnatal doula to support you through this period of adjustment.


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