The Red Flags Of Postpartum Recovery, According To An OBGYN

by Christine Sterling, M.D.
Originally Published: 
Orbon Alija/Getty

This article could save your life.

The maternal mortality rate in the United States has been increasing since the 1980s. This is an unacceptable trend. I do not want you or any of your friends to become part of this statistic.

While you may have heard about moms dying in childbirth, most people have not heard about the alarming number of women dying in the postpartum period. A large percentage of these deaths are entirely preventable.

Today I am going to run through 8 symptoms in the postpartum period that should not be ignored.

1. Heavy bleeding

Before leaving the hospital ask how much bleeding is too much. We often advise returning to the hospital if you are bleeding enough to saturate two pads in an hour, though your doctor may want you to be more cautious. While it is common to have a slight increase in bleeding with activity, passing large clots is not normal and warrants medical evaluation.

2. Shortness of breath

In pregnancy, mild shortness of breath with activity and in certain positions is common. After delivery, this should resolve. Shortness of breath is not a normal symptom in the postpartum period and could signal a blood clot in your lungs or a problem with your heart. Even more concerning, is shortness of breath that gets worse when you lie down or is accompanied by chest pain, palpitations, or a cough. These symptoms warrant immediate medical evaluation.

3. Fever Above 100.3 F (or 37.9 C)

There many causes of fever in the postpartum period, some of them are no big deal and others are very serious. You do not need to determine the seriousness of your fever— that is the job of a trained medical professional. All fevers in the postpartum period warrant a phone call to your provider or a trip to the hospital where you delivered.

4. Headache not relieved by over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen

This could be the sign of some seriously high blood pressures and warrants medical evaluation. Preeclampsia, a pregnancy related condition that often involves high blood pressure, can progress quickly and is considered life-threatening. With appropriate medical care, we can drastically reduce complications from this condition.

5. Change in vision, seeing stars or spots

Another potential symptom of preeclampsia or elevated blood pressure. This symptom is not normal, or expected, and needs medical evaluation

6. New pain in the upper portion of your abdomen

This is yet another possible sign of a blood pressure issue or preeclampsia and warrants medical evaluation.

7. Pain and swelling in your leg

This could be a sign of a blood clot. These frequently occur in just one leg, making one leg more painful and larger than the other. Blood clots can be life-threatening, particularly if they travel to your lungs. You may have heard that Serena Williams suffered this complication, called a pulmonary embolism, postpartum. These symptoms warrant immediate medical evaluation.

8. Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression and anxiety are common. Sometimes, through no fault of the individual, these medical conditions progress to suicidal or homicidal thoughts. If you find yourself having these thoughts, it is extremely important that you tell someone immediately. If you have suidical ideations, this is considered an absolute emergency and you should call 911 immediately. Inability to sleep, even when given the opportunity, is a major risk factor for suicide in the postpartum period. If this happens to you, or someone you love, it is time to seek medical attention.

Postpartum psychosis is a little known, but highly lethal, condition and can occur even in women with no prior history of mental illness. Women with postpartum psychosis have obsessive thoughts of harm coming to themselves or their children. They will often hear voices, or grow concerned that a spirit or person is coming to harm their children. Unfortunately, some of these women end up killing their children thinking they are protecting them. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms this is an emergency. Call 911 or proceed to the emergency room.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

In Conclusion

This is not a comprehensive list. If you have a symptom not discussed here, talk to your doctor. Your OB/GYN did at least 12 years of higher education so that she can answer your questions.

I hope you never experience any of these complications. Please share this article with any expecting or postpartum women you know so that we can spread the word about these life-threatening symptoms. You could save your friend’s life!

We are Scary Mommies, millions of unique women, united by motherhood. We are scary, and we are proud. But Scary Mommies are more than “just” mothers; we are partners (and ex-partners), daughters, sisters, friends… and we need a space to talk about things other than the kids. So check out our Scary Mommy It’s Personal Facebook page. And if your kids are out of diapers and daycare, our Scary Mommy Tweens & Teens Facebook page is here to help parents survive the tween and teen years (aka, the scariest of them all).

This article was originally published on