Postpartum Problems (cont.)

Be sure to report any unexplained fever that develops in the early weeks after delivery to your doctor. This could be a sign of postpartum infection.

Perineal Pain

For women who delivered vaginally, pain in the perineum (the area between the rectum and vagina) is quite common. These tender tissues may have stretched or torn during delivery, causing them to feel swollen, bruised and sore. This discomfort may also be aggravated by an episiotomy, an incision sometimes made in the perineum during delivery to keep the vagina from ripping.

As your body heals in the weeks following childbirth, the discomfort should lessen. Sitz baths, cold packs or warm water applied to the area with a squirt bottle or sponge can help avoid infection and reduce tenderness. It's also important to wipe yourself from front to back after a bowel movement to avoid infecting the perineum with germs from the rectum.

If sitting is uncomfortable, you may want to purchase a doughnut-shaped pillow at your local drugstore to help ease the pressure on your perineum. A prescription or over-the-counter pain reliever (non-aspirin, if you're breast-feeding) also can help.

When you feel up to it, pelvic floor exercises (often called Kegel exercises) can help restore strength to your vaginal muscles and help the healing process along. If you have increasing or persistent pain in the vaginal area, however, discontinue the exercise and alert your doctor.

Vaginal Discharge (Lochia)

A bloody, initially heavy, discharge from the vagina is common for the first several weeks after delivery. This discharge, which consists of blood and the remains of the placenta, is called lochia. For the first few days after childbirth, the discharge is bright red and may include clots of blood. The flow will eventually lighten, as will its color -- gradually turning pink, then white or yellow before stopping altogether. The bright red discharge may return at times, such as after breast-feeding or too-vigorous exercise, but its volume generally slows considerably in about 10 to 14 days.

Swollen (Engorged) Breasts

When your milk comes in (about two to four days after delivery), your breasts may become very large, hard and sore. This engorgement will ease once you establish a breast-feeding pattern or, if you're not breast-feeding, once your body stops producing milk (usually less than three days if your baby is not suckling).

You can ease the discomfort of engorgement by wearing a well-fitting support bra and applying ice packs to your breasts. If you are breast-feeding, you can relieve some of the pressure by expressing -- either manually or with a breast pump -- small amounts of milk. If you are not nursing your baby, avoid hot showers and expressing any milk. This will only confuse your body into producing more milk to compensate. Oral pain relievers can help you endure the discomfort until your milk supply dries up.

Mastitis

Mastitis, or breast infection, usually is indicated by a tender, reddened area on the breast (the entire breast may also be involved). Breast infections -- which can be brought on by bacteria and lowered defenses resulting from stress, exhaustion or cracked nipples -- may be accompanied by fever, chills, fatigue, headache and/or nausea and vomiting. Any of these symptoms should be reported to your doctor, who may recommend treatment with antibiotics.

If you have a breast infection, you may continue to nurse from both breasts. Mastitis does not affect your breast milk. It's also important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Warm, wet towels applied to the affected area may help alleviate discomfort; and cold compresses applied after nursing can help reduce congestion in your breast. You may also want to avoid constricting bras and clothing.

Clogged Ducts

Clogged milk ducts, which can cause redness, pain, swelling or a lump in the breast, can mimic mastitis. However, unlike breast infections, caked, clogged or plugged ducts are not accompanied by flu-like symptoms.

Breast massage; frequent nursing until the breast is emptied; and warm, moist packs applied to the sore area several times a day may solve the problem. However, if you have a lump that does not respond quickly to home treatment, consult your doctor.

Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are the striations that appear on many women's breasts, thighs, hips and abdomen during pregnancy. These reddish 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. While many women purchase special creams, lotions and oils to help prevent and erase stretch marks, there is little evidence that they work. About half of women develop stretch marks during pregnancy, regardless of whether or not they have used any topical ointments.

Hemorrhoids and Constipation

Hemorrhoids and constipation, which can be aggravated by the pressure of the enlarged uterus and fetus on the lower abdomen veins, are both quite common in pregnant and postpartum women. Over-the-counter ointments and sprays, accompanied by a diet rich in fiber and fluids, usually can help reduce constipation and the swelling of hemorrhoids. Warm sitz baths followed by a cold compress also can offer some relief. An inflatable, donut-shaped pillow, which can be purchased at any drugstore, can help ease discomfort caused by sitting.

Do not use laxatives, suppositories or enemas without asking your doctor, especially if you've had an episiotomy or have stitches in the perineal area.

Urinary and Fecal Incontinence

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