Postpartum Complications

Postpartum Complications: What to Look Out For

Pregnancy and childbirth are journeys that most women have to undertake within their lifetimes. It is a transformative experience, one that gives them a new role in life: mother. However, the whole process can also be risky and life-threatening.

While many women dream of having a child at some point, carrying a baby in their belly to term and then giving birth can lead to maternal mortality. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 700 women a year die of complications during pregnancy. The rate of maternal mortality is even higher in developing countries. Overall, more than 300,000 women die annually from problems during pregnancy and childbirth globally.

However, the risk does not end when the baby arrives healthy and well from the hospital. The mother may still experience complications after delivery. Here are a few to look out for.

Postpartum Thyroiditis

Postpartum thyroiditis is a condition that affects some women (around 5 percent) a year after giving birth. It is not known why natural antibodies attack the thyroid. Still, women who have type-1 diabetes and those who have a family history of thyroid dysfunction are at a greater risk of postpartum thyroiditis. If left unaddressed, it can lead to hyperthyroidism (or high levels of thyroid hormone in the blood) and hypothyroidism (levels of thyroid hormone in the blood is too low).

Those who have the condition may experience symptoms typical of those with thyroid problems. These include weight loss or weight gain, rapid heart rate, feeling warm, aversion to cold, anxiety, hair loss, muscle pain, depression, and fatigue.

Postpartum thyroiditis can be diagnosed by taking a sample of your blood and testing to see levels of thyroid hormones present. The doctor may also ask about your symptoms. Once a diagnosis has been made, the doctor may prescribe beta-blockers (hyperthyroidism) or thyroid hormone replacement therapy (hypothyroidism).

Postpartum Depression

Now, this is a more common condition that affects a lot of women after childbirth. The U.S. CDC says that about one in ten women experienced symptoms of depression in the past year. Utilizing the data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, it is estimated that one in eight women went through postpartum depression.  

The symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to clinical depression. It includes persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, helplessness, restlessness, emptiness, guilt, and irritability. They may also have difficulty falling asleep, have zero energy for activities they usually enjoy, have trouble concentrating, and become irritable.

Fathers, too, may experience depression after the birth of their baby, although it is much less common. In a study from 2010, 4 percent of fathers experienced symptoms of depression within the first year after childbirth.

Diagnosis of postpartum depression requires a visit to a mental health professional who will talk to you and assess your symptoms. Treatment typically includes the prescription of antidepressant medication and/or psychotherapy.

Postpartum Endometritis

Women, after giving birth, need to recover. The process takes about six to eight weeks. Sometimes, longer. During that period, women are at risk of postpartum endometritis, an infection that occurs in the lining of the uterus or the upper genital tract.

It happens because bacteria managed to infiltrate the area during childbirth. It may have found its way into your uterus or upper genital tract before childbirth, but it might have also entered during childbirth. Any kind of bacteria can cause an infection of the endometrium. However, group B streptococci and staphylococcus are the most common culprits behind the condition.

Postpartum endometritis is often diagnosed within ten days of infection. In some cases, it takes six weeks before the infection occurs. Symptoms to watch out for include headache, chill, soreness or tenderness of the belly or abdomen, pain while urinating, unusual vaginal discharge, and malaise. More importantly, a high fever that persists or develops seven hours after childbirth is the main symptom of postpartum endometritis.

A blood test can confirm if an infection has occurred. The doctor will prescribe antibiotics for treatment. It is important that postpartum endometritis and any kind of infection are caught and treated immediately to prevent a life-threatening complication called sepsis. The infection spreads into the bloodstream.

Women go through a lot when they get pregnant and give birth. While medicine has progressed and lowered maternal mortality, expecting mothers still need to be careful and monitor their well-being. Some things can happen after childbirth that can affect their health. The best way to prevent them is to be aware of the risks, watch out for symptoms, rest, and follow the doctor’s orders.

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