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Common health concerns after giving birth

Once the nine months of pregnancy are over, a woman’s body faces significant changes in the weeks and months following baby’s birth. In this postnatal period, her body would heal and rebuild its strength. However, other discomforts and health problems may be a sign that one needs medical care, writes Betty Muindi

1. Postpartum haemorrhage

Bleeding is one of the commonest causes of maternal death in childbirth. It usually happens when the uterus fails to properly contract after the placenta has been delivered, or because of a tear in the uterus, cervix or vagina. If bleeding is severe, your uterus may be massaged or medication prescribed to help it contract.

2. Uterine infections

If pieces of the placenta remain in the uterus, it can lead to infection of the amniotic sac during labour, which in turn may lead to a postpartum infection of the uterus. Signs that you could be having uterine infections are high fever, rapid heart rate, abnormally high white blood cell count, swollen, tender uterus and foul-smelling discharge. Uterine infections can usually be treated with a course of intravenous antibiotics.

3. Infection of C-section incision

A post-caesarean wound infection may occur due to a bacterial infection at the site of the surgical incision. Common signs include fever, wound sensitivity, and lower abdominal pain, red, swollen skin or draining pus. Resist the urge to scratch so as to ease itching. Get treated promptly to prevent complications from the infection.

4. Kidney infections

A kidney infection can occur if bacteria spreads from the bladder. Symptoms include a strong urge to urinate, high fever, a generally sick feeling, pain in the lower back or side and painful urination. Once a kidney infection is diagnosed, a course of antibiotics is usually prescribed. Patients are also instructed to drink plenty of fluids.

5. Perennial pain

For women who deliver vaginally, pain in the area between the rectum and vagina is quite common. This is usually due to tearing or stretching of the tender tissues of the vagina during delivery, causing them to feel swollen, bruised and sore.

This discomfort may also be aggravated by an episiotomy. Sitz baths, icecubes or warm water applied to the area with a clean piece of cloth can help avoid infection and reduce pain. Also wipe yourself from front to back after a bowel movement to avoid further infections.

6. Vaginal discharge

A bloody, initially heavy discharge from the vagina is common for the first few weeks after delivery. The discharge consists of blood and the remains of the placenta called lochia. The flow as well the colour will eventually lighten before stopping altogether.

7. Engorged breasts

When milk comes in, your breasts may become large, hard and sore. But once you establish a breastfeeding pattern, the swelling will ease. You can ease the discomfort of engorgement by expressing or wearing a well-fitting support bra and applying ice packs to your breasts. Oral painkillers can also help with the discomfort.

8. Infectious mastitis

Mastitis or breast infection, is usually indicated by a tender, reddened area on the breast. Breast infections, which can be brought on by bacteria and lowered defences resulting from stress, exhaustion or cracked nipples may be accompanied by fever, fatigue, headache or nausea and vomiting. Treatment with antibiotics is usually recommended.

9. Stretch marks

Stretch marks are the striations that appear on many women’s breasts, thighs, hips and abdomen during pregnancy. These marks, which are caused by hormonal changes and stretching skin, may become more noticeable after delivery. Although they may never disappear completely, they will fade considerably over time.

10. Postnatal depression

Some women experience depression in the first weeks after the birth of their child. Changes in hormone levels, combined with the new responsibility of caring for a newborn including lack of sleep, physical pain make many new mothers anxious, overwhelmed or angry. For most, these feelings last for only a few days while others it continues leading to depression. Severe depression may make it difficult for a mother to cope with their new role.

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