Important symptoms

Abnormal vaginal bleeding: blood loss during and after the birth affects women in different ways. If you begin to develop symptoms including palpitations (more aware of your own heartbeat), dizziness, a rapid pulse, weakness, sweating and restlessness following or during a heavy blood loss, you should contact your midwife or GP immediately for advice. You may need treatment/medication.

Infection: a high temperature, rapid pulse and increased breathing rate are signs of an infection. This is more likely if you are experiencing other symptoms such as pain on passing urine, diarrhoea and/or vomiting, rash on your body, a painful perineum or abdominal wound, and or abdominal tenderness. It is important that you try to reduce the risk of infection by: good personal hygiene, washing your hands properly before and after preparing food, using the toilet, sneezing/blowing your nose. If you feel unwell, have a sore throat, cough with mucous or respiratory infection contact your GP or midwife immediately for advice. You may need treatment with antibiotics.

Sepsis: (also known as blood poisoning) is an immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury. This is a rate but serious condition which can initially look like flu, gastroenteritis (sickness and/or diarrhoea) or a chest infection. If not treated immediately, sepsis can result in organ failure and death. With an early diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics. Seek urgent medical help if you experience signs of sepsis:

  • slurred speech or confusion
  • extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • passing no urine (in a day)
  • severe breathlessness
  • you feel like you are going to die
  • your skin is mottled or discoloured

Headache: some people suffer from tension headaches and/or migraines after giving birth. These usually resolve with mild pain relief and rest. If, however, you have the onset of a sudden severe headache with neck stiffness and a high temperature, contact your midwife or GP immediately for advice. If the severe headache occurs within three days of the birth and is accompanied with heartburn-type pain, blurred vision/spots before your eyes, nausea or vomiting, you should also contact your midwife or GP immediately as this may indicate a sudden rise in your blood pressure. if you had an epidural and then develop a headache, which gets worse when you are standing or sitting up but is relieved when you lie down, it could be a symptom of epidural complications and you should contact your midwife or GP immediately for advice. You may also experience nausea and vomiting and ringing in the ears.

Chest pain spreading to your jaw, arm or back, shortness of breath, increased heart rate: some people can experience symptoms of coronary heart disease for the first time following the birth of their baby. The risk of heart disease is increased if you smoke, have high blood pressure, have high cholesterol, overweight/obese or have diabetes. Therefore, it’s essential that if you develop any of the following symptoms you seek urgent medical attention by calling 999:

  • severe chest pain spreading to your jaw, arm or back
  • your heart is persistently racing
  • you are severely breathless when resting, especially when lying down
  • you experience fainting while exercising

Red, painful area on the breast: This is common in those who are breastfeeding and may be due to infective or non-infective mastitis. Symptoms are a high temperature, feeling generally unwell and flu-like symptoms. Non-infective mastitis is usually caused by blocked milk ducts. It is relieved by frequent feeding and effective attachment. If the symptoms persist after a couple of feeds, there may be an infection present, especially if you have cracked nipples and you may need treatment. Neither is a reason to stop breastfeeding as this helps to keep the milk flowing and relieve symptoms by massaging your breast and how to hand express milk between feeds. Pain killers will help to relieve the symptoms and it is important to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Breastfeeding and thrush: some women develop thrush in their breasts. This may happen if you have been given antibiotics or because of cracked nipples. You and your baby may have no signs of thrust, but if you develop nipple pain or shooting pains deep in your breasts during feeding, which continues after the feed, contact your midwife, breastfeeding specialist or GP as you may need treatment.

Persistent tiredness, fainting, dizziness, pale complexion, heart palpitations: these are all symptoms of anaemia, which is caused by too little haemoglobin (Hb) in the red blood cells. This can be treated with iron supplements and dietary advice. If you are concerned, discuss this with your midwife or GP.

Backache: This is common after childbirth and is likely to improve with pain killers and normal activity. Your midwife will advise you on your posture when handling, lifting and feeding your baby. If you experience pain radiating down one or both legs, this could be nerve root pain (sciatica) and you should see your GP for advice.

Painful intercourse (dyspareunia): after childbirth, it is not unusual for intercourse to be uncomfortable initially and may be one of the reasons why many couples find enthusiasm for sex reduced for a while. Water based lubricant gel may ease the soreness. Effective contraception may relieve the added concern of another pregnancy. However, if the pain persists see your GP, who can assess whether you may need to be referred to a specialist.