Authored by Revere Health

Health Risks During the Postpartum Period

May 23, 2018 | Family Medicine

Most expecting mothers know that there are potential risks when it comes to childbirth, but many of us focus more on the risks involved during pregnancy and up to delivery, and less on the risks afterward. The postpartum period (the time after a woman gives birth) can impact a mother’s risk of chronic conditions, the health of future pregnancies and the well-being of her child.

Here’s some information on how the postpartum period can affect your health and how you can stay healthy after giving birth.

The Data

A study funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation surveyed over 2,000 women who had given birth between the ages of 18 and 45 in US hospitals. Here’s what they found:

  • Pain is common after giving birth: A majority of women experience some kind of pain after giving birth. Over half of the women surveyed said the pain interfered “at least a bit” with routine activities.
  • Stress, exhaustion and sleep loss is normal: Over 50 percent of participants reported feelings of stress, physical exhaustion or sleep loss.
  • Infections can occur: These were particularly common among women who had a cesarean birth.
  • Women may notice a difference in their mental health: A significant percentage of respondents met some criteria for depression, but the rate of those who sought counseling and treatment was very low.
  • Nutrition, exercise and wellness is difficult for new moms: On a follow-up survey given two weeks after birth, the largest problem area among respondents was getting enough exercise.

Death after Delivery

According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of death for mothers in the days, weeks and months after giving birth in the US are higher than other developed countries—and this rate has been rising for two decades.

Death after giving birth is often caused by conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and others. It’s vital to meet with your doctor or OB/GYN before conception to talk about everything you can do to have a healthy pregnancy and recovery healthy recovery.

Here are the leading causes of death in mothers after birth:

  • Hemorrhage: Also called excessive bleeding, death from hemorrhage occurs when the condition isn’t recognized and treated fast enough. It can happen up to two weeks after birth.
  • Infection: Infection can develop as a result of several risk factors, including obesity, diabetes, the flu and others. Sepsis, a condition in which the body reacts to an infection severely, could lead to death. Make sure your hospital or birthing center has protocols for identifying and treating sepsis immediately if it’s present.
  • Heart disease: This condition can be difficult to manage, as many symptoms of heart problems are similar to those you’d normally see during pregnancy.
  • Mental health issues: Postpartum depression, drug abuse and partner abuse can be very difficult to solve and may lead to suicide in some mothers. Help is available for all of these issues; don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor or a suicide or domestic violence hotline if you need even minor assistance.

Symptoms to Look For

If you experience these symptoms during postpartum, contact your doctor:

  • A persistent fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or coughing up blood
  • Intense headaches
  • Heavy bleeding following delivery (using up at least one large pad per hour)
  • Thoughts of self-harm

Steps You Can Take for a Healthy Postpartum Period

Here are some precautions you can take to minimize the risk of postpartum death and other complications:

  • Ensure your hospital has the appropriate protocols in place for hemorrhage or sepsis.
  • Take all medications as they are prescribed, and get a flu shot in advance.
  • Meet with your doctor before you become pregnant to discuss health issues and make a pregnancy plan.
  • If there’s ever a need for hospital facility services after you’ve already returned home after giving birth, do your best to go back to the same hospital you delivered at. If this isn’t possible, bring all paperwork from your previous hospital with you to the new one.

Your doctor or OB/GYN can offer further recommendations when it comes to a safe pregnancy and postpartum period.



“The Time After Childbirth Is More Dangerous Than You Think. What to Watch For.” WebMD.

“What Health Concerns Do U.S. Women Have After Giving Birth?: A Listening to Mothers III Data Brief.” Transforming Maternity Care.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.