Written by Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist Dr. Washington Hill
As most parents know, caring for a newborn can be consuming — requiring all of your time, energy and attention — often leading new moms to ignore their own health postpartum. But what many families don’t realize is that monitoring mom’s health during the days and weeks following childbirth is as important as caring for the new baby.
Most maternal deaths related to childbirth complications actually occur after delivery, and one-third of those after mom and baby have gone home from the hospital. Women who recently have been pregnant or have given birth are at increased risk for a range of health problems, including blood clots, pulmonary embolisms, infection, stroke, hemorrhaging and depression.
Postpartum Warning Signs
If you know someone who’s had a baby in the last 6 weeks — or just had one yourself — look for these warning signs of a potential medical problem:
- A headache that does not get better with over-the-counter medication; this could be a symptom of high blood pressure or stroke.
- A fever higher than 100.4 degrees or a persistent pulse higher than 110 beats per minute; this could be a sign of an infection or other medical issue.
- Increased vaginal bleeding or a foul-smelling vaginal or incision discharge. Some bleeding after giving birth is normal, but if it increases rather than decreasing or stopping, it’s likely a sign that there’s a health problem.
- Pain in one area of your breast; this could be a symptom of mastitis.
- Pain in your lower leg; this could be caused by a blood clot.
- Seizures, fainting or increasing abdominal pain; these are common signs of infection or abscess.
- A persistent cough, chest pain or shortness of breath / feeling that you cannot breathe; these are typical symptoms of a pulmonary embolism.
- Having thoughts of hurting self or the baby; this a serious sign of postpartum depression.
- An incision or episiotomy that is not healing or is red.
Anyone who experiences any of these symptoms after giving birth should contact their care provider immediately. Do not delay seeking medical attention. Outside of normal office hours, in the event you don’t have a care provider or in an emergency, postpartum women showing any of these symptoms should head directly to the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Obstetrical Emergency Care Center (OB-ECC), located on the first floor of the main hospital.
Washington Hill, MD, a Maternal and Fetal Medicine specialist with the Florida Department of Health-Sarasota County, Sarasota Memorial Hospital and CenterPlace Health, has been an obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN) for nearly 50 years.