Post-Pregnancy Illnesses

(Reposted at a later date)

As I sit here and write this article, I have just awoken from a relatively comfortable but more comforting night’s sleep in my OWN bed.

Last night I was discharged from hospital…

…well, at least until next week.

Next week I will need to have my Gall Bladder removed but for now I have pain medication and antibiotics to see me through.

7 Weeks ago, I was also being discharged from hospital. I had just had my beautiful daughter via caesarean section.

Apparently, it is quite common for women to have a variety of illnesses just after pregnancy (something I did not know). So, I did a little research into some of the illnesses/problems that women should look out for.

Symptom: Stomach pain after childbirth

Afterpains – Your uterus is contracting and shrinking back to its normal size. You will feel some dull pain and some sharp pains as a result of this. Some of the pain may be in your back as well. Most moms will experience the most intense of these pains in the first week after giving birth. The uterus can take as long as four to six weeks to return to its normal size, however, so you may still be experiencing these afterpains during that time.Note that these pains will be stronger when your baby is breastfeeding, since this stimulates the release of oxytocin which causes the uterus to contract. Since you’re a first-time mom, your pains will likely be less than a mom who has had more than one pregnancy. A mom who has given birth more than once will have less muscle tone in her uterus.You can remedy these pains by applying a warm heating pad (you can make your own rice sock for this) or taking a pain reliever approved by your health care provider (be sure to mention if you are nursing.)

Constipation – Another contributing factor for stomach pain is that your bowels are getting back to normal. If you had any kind of anaesthesia or if you are taking a narcotic for pain like hydrocodone, this can compound the problem of constipation.To remedy this, you should make sure you are eating lots of fibre and drinking plenty of water. Also, make sure that you are walking some each day. If you haven’t had a bowel movement for more than a couple of days, talk to your health care provider about taking a stool softener that contains docusate (like Colace or Docusoft).

C-Section Healing – If you had a C-section, you will certainly feel some pain as the incision and internal wounds heal. Make sure you get enough rest and don’t put too much strain on your stomach. Take all pain relievers as directed. If the pain really bothers you, it’s better to stay on top of it by taking your dose every 4 hours, for example, than to delay a dose and have to wait until a late dose kicks in. Make sure that you’re not doing too much. Invite friends and family over to help with housework and other tasks, but make sure they don’t hinder your need for rest. If necessary, hire professionals to take care of yard work, shopping and cleaning so you can heal.

More Serious Issues that Require Medical Attention – If you aren’t having any other symptoms such as excessive discharge from or redness around a C-section incision, fever, nausea, excessive or bright red bleeding, tender areas on your sides, sharp or severe pains that seem unbearable or anything else that just seems out of the ordinary, then chances are this will pass. If you experience any of those symptoms or if the pain is constant and not alleviated by the remedies I mentioned, definitely contact your health care provider to rule out anything more serious like appendicitis or an infection. (I was vomiting and in excessive pain)

Symptom: Other ‘Stomach Problems’

A major concern in any complaints of ‘stomach problems’ in pregnancy is that liver and gall bladder conditions may present (and be blown off) as simple heartburn. Liver disease as a result of pregnancy must be at least considered to make sure the symptoms aren’t in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. The same goes for the gall bladder. But if the discomfort is a burning sensation in the mid abdomen right under the middle of the rib cage, is worse on an empty stomach and when lying down, then simple pyrosis (heartburn) is probably the culprit with remedies as described above.  Keep in mind, though, that any heartburn not easily remedied could be an ulcer or other gastrointestinal problem worthy of further evaluation.

Symptom: Feeling low/miserable and tearful for no apparent reason, being unable to enjoy yourself, sleep disturbance, anxiety, feelings of being ‘worthless’ and ‘hopeless’

Between 10% and 40% of women develop Postnatal Depression (PND). If one takes the lowest figure of 10%, there are at least 50 000 new cases of PND per year in South Africa.

A recent study in Khayelitsha showed that more than 30% of new mothers in that community are suffering from PND. This is according to the Post Natal Depression Support Association (PNDSA).

What are the three types of postnatal emotional disorders?

The Blues – Blues are commonly described as weepiness and emotional fluctuations that begin shortly after childbirth, and continue for only a few days. The onset is typically three to five days postpartum. The most commonly reported symptoms are tearfulness, tiredness, anxiety, over-emotional reactions, up and down mood swings, feeling low, and muddled thinking. The Blues affect between 30-80% of women – mean incidence across studies is 55.75%.

Research has shown that severe Blues may be predictors of PND. Usually re-assurance and sympathetic management is sufficient treatment. It is generally thought that the causes of the Blues may be associated with the changes in hormonal levels associated with childbirth.

Postnatal Depression and anxiety (PND) – Postnatal Depression is a more serious illness than the Blues and the symptoms are more severe and last longer. The disorder is insidious and debilitating, and can develop at any time during the first year postpartum. Antenatal Depression is often found during pregnancy (10%), and is a good predictor of subsequent PND.Between 10-40% of women develop Postnatal Depression. The range of these prevalence figures may partly be due to differences in diagnostic measurement and in differences in definition of the depression. Duration is a minimum of two weeks, but usually much longer. (It is thought that it may continue as a low-grade chronic depression if left untreated, becoming more severe with each subsequent pregnancy).A relationship has been found between the Blues and later-developing PND. This suggests that for some women there may be a hormonal component of postnatal depression and anxiety. Many of the symptoms of the Blues are also found in Postnatal Depression, but in a more severe form. Full recovery may take a long time, as the causes for the depression may lie in deep-seated past psychological traumas.Treatment may require medication, and professional advice needs to be sought regarding what drugs can be safely taken during breastfeeding. “Talk therapy” is extremely helpful, and almost all women find great comfort in attending support groups, where they can share their painful feelings with others, knowing that they will not be judged as bad mothers.

Postnatal Psychosis – Postnatal (Puerperal) Psychosis is the most severe of the postpartum illnesses. Onset is typically within two to four weeks, but may be as late as eight weeks postpartum. Duration depends on speed of diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Symptoms include heightened or reduced motor activity, hallucinations, marked deviation in mood, severe depression, mania, or both, confusion, and delirium. Incidence is one or two per 1 000 postpartum women. The three most common diagnoses are unipolar depression, bipolar depression and schizophrenia. Treatment usually requires hospitalization and medication. The prognosis is generally good, and Postnatal Psychosis appears to respond well to anti-psychotic medication.

These are just some of the things that you might experience but the best thing is to follow your own instincts. I knew something was very wrong and they kept telling me that it was this, that or the other thing.

Thankfully, through the thoughts and prayers of friends and family, they were able to locate the problem…only after I turned a little yellow though!

For now, I am content with the week I get to spend with my little angel before they ‘chop’ me up. It is so important not to ignore symptoms; they can become life-threatening!

Keep Healthy and Listen to your body!

2 thoughts on “Post-Pregnancy Illnesses

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve seen two friends suffer from PPD and its not easy to see the personality change. What should be a happy time becomes a sad depressing time. I think women should go to less pregnant Yoga, pillattes classes and actually educate and prepare themselves with support groups, social clubs for pregnant moms- we need more of that in this country.
    Thanks Denise

  2. Hi Mekyla

    I understand what you are saying, while exercise is important, we need to find balance and ensure that our mental and emotional health is also looked after. Becoming a new mom is definitely life changing.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your experience.

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