Many women ask me about after-birth pains, or afterpains, as we call them. These are the cramping pains that you get after the birth of your baby.
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You may not realize what afterpains feel like even if you've had a baby because you don't generally feel them after a first baby, or even after your second baby. Most women start to feel them after a third baby. They're a good thing because they mean that your uterus is doing what it's supposed to do. When you're not pregnant your womb very small, and when you're at the end of your pregnancy it's obviously is big enough to hold your baby! After your baby is born, your uterus has to get firm and contract back down to that pre-pregnancy size. Usually that happens completely by about six weeks postpartum, but most of that is happening in the immediate postpartum time. That means there's a lot of contraction action in the first few days after you have your baby and it can be pretty uncomfortable when that's happening!
The common belief is that afterpains get worse with every subsequent baby. I've had 7 babies and I wouldn't necessarily say that it's gotten worse with every one – but they are definitely much worse than they were after my first baby because I didn't really have any. I had them lightly after my second baby. But after my third baby they got much tougher, and they have been really tough with each baby since then.
I guess the reason why afterpains feel so offensive to me and to many mamas is because they don't feel purposeful (even though they are) When you're in your birthing time and you're feeling the rushes, the contractions, you know there's a purpose there. You know that there is a reason because it's working to bring your baby to you. But after your baby is here it just feels so unfair because you think “I've done the hard work, why am I still hurting?!” Really, when we look at it logically, there is a purpose to afterpains. They are helping the uterus get back down to its normal size so that you're healthy and so that your bleeding is minimal. You still don't get a happy cuddly baby to hold it at the end of it. Of course you still have your baby, but it's not like you're really feeling like you're getting a reward for that pain. I think that's why they feel so unfair – but do remember that they have a purpose 😉
I've been assisting at births for the past several months and I've been privileged to see quite a few beautiful births at this point. I've seen is a lot of those moms choosing to use medication for the afterpains. Tylenol or ibuprofen are the typical choices, and that's completely safe. Talk to your doctor or your midwife and ask them what the recommended doses are so you can have them on hand if you want to go with a medication.
One of the reasons I decided to do this post is because I don't want to take any medication in the postpartum if I don't have to. If they were horrible enough that I was really, really hurting, I would take them and also if for some reason I needed to have an emergency cesarean, I'd certainly take the pain medications. If I felt like the pain was just interfering with me being able to bond with my baby I would definitely take something stronger. But so far I've been able to deal with things naturally and that's what I thought I would share.
One thing that worked very well for me postpartum with Sadie was an herbal tincture made specifically for afterpains (watch the video above – I show you the tincture). I hadn't tried Afterease from WishGarden Herbs before and I now wish that I had! I think it would also probably work pretty well for period cramps once you start cycling again, so it can be kept around for that even after the postpartum time.
Afterease has Yarrow, Motherwort, Black Haw bark, and Crampbark in the formula, all traditional, trusted herbs.
Here's a note about motherwort: my midwife actually carries a tincture of motherwort (which tastes awful). She carries it because if you tend to get the shakes at the end of labor and postpartum, it's really effective at calming those down. Shaking at the end of labor and early postpartum is pretty normal, especially in a natural birth, because of the hormonal rush you experience. You're actually having an adrenaline rush and it can cause shaking to start when you're getting ready to push your baby out. Your body starts to push adrenaline out when you're completing that last of the opening up for your baby – when the fundus (the top of the uterus) is getting ready to push baby down. Some women have shakes start postpartum as you're holding your baby and hormones are rushing. The motherwort in this tincture helps with the shakes and just let things ease a little bit.
The other herbs – Black Haw bark, Yarrow, and Crampbark are herbs that have been traditionally useful to help with cramps. I was surprised that Afterease worked really, really well for me – so if you're open to using something herbal, it's a good choice.
As soon as I felt an afterpain really starting I would just take a dropper full. Warning: it tastes horrible, but was worth it. I'm so this is available!!
Another thing that has really helped me with all of my babies is having their weight over my lower abdomen. Many times an afterpain will start while you're nursing (which is normal – the nursing stimulates a contraction, so baby is helping your baby to heal). If that's the case, you can't do this with your baby. But if you're experiencing cramping between nursing sessions, you can.
Instead of cuddling your sleeping baby up to you, just curl baby up over your abdomen. Position them as if they were still in the womb, just on the outside (head can be up!). Having the weight of your baby resting over your uterus can help – it won't take the pain away, but it's comforting. If you've had a c-section you'll probably avoid this method since baby would be right over the incision.
You could also use something like a rice sock, especially if heat the rice sock up. I haven't studied this in detail yet, but in Chinese medicine, but one of the things they say is that you want to use warmth to heal after birth. That's interesting to me because sometimes we give moms like cold pads for their bottom in the postpartum. I've never liked that, which might be why I find this interesting 😉 Anyways, you have the weight of the baby and your baby is lovely and warm – that warmth just over that area of your uterus where all that action is going on may be helpful.
Another thing that can be really helpful is your birth breathing. I talk a lot about breathing and what you do to help yourself work through the rushes, the contractions in my MamaBaby Birthing classes, and all of those techniques work really well for afterpains. It does come back to that “unfair” feeling – why should you need to use birth breathing after you've given birth!! But it's helpful 😉
Even doing some light spiraling of your hips or rocking of your hips can help. During your birthing time you do a lot of spiraling – it's instinctive to many birthing women and it helps move your baby down a baby. It also gives you way to work with the energy in your body because contractions are bringing massive amounts of energy through you. You can do the same to work with the smaller energy levels of afterpains (which remember, are still doing important work).
One of the things that I would often do was straighten my legs the draw them back up. It's doing something with that energy instead of just sitting there writhing in pain, or being paralyzed because they can be really strong. Doing something with that energy can be helpful.
Some women find it helpful to roll over and be on their belly. That can be sometimes hard to do if your milk has come in because that's putting a lot of pressure on your breasts which can be tender. And if you're having a lot of bleeding it might not be easy. I think it's good to have a mat or “Chux pads” – they let you roll over on the bed and not worry about getting anything on the sheets.
So if baby is sleeping next to you, roll over for a little so you can have the pressure on your tummy and lower abdomen during the really hard afterpains.
The thing that I think is the most helpful is actually totally mental. This is something that my midwife Charlie told me. She's the midwife I had with my first three and she taught me so many wonderful things about having babies. Here's what she told me about afterpains:
Afterpains last for three days and then they're gone.
It's actually not really that they're gone, it's just that the rough ones last for about three days and I have found that to be true with all of my babies!
So when you think about the strategies that you can use to help get through those afterpains also hold in your mind that you are strong enough to handle this for a short period of time. It's just like your birthing time is only going to last for certain period of time and you are strong enough to handle it.
I actually do a mental countdown when I'm postpartum… 1 day down, 2 to go… 2 days down, 1 to go… 3rd day… they'll be a distant memory soon!!!
The little contractions are still there, but the cramping is gone.
I know that's totally mental, but it really helps.
Here's a summary:
Remember, I go through step-by-step many many different techniques to have your toolbox: breathing techniques, ways to handle the energy of labor, how to handle the postpartum, and all that stuff in my MamaBaby Birthing classes. They're completely online, and you can go through them at your own pace. Plus we have a live weekly call where I answer all of your questions 😀 It's a lot of fun and I'd love to “see” you in class or answer your questions via email!