9 Surprising Postpartum Aches and Pains

You expect to be a little sore after delivery, but the truth is, you may experience days or weeks of postpartum problems. From bloated breasts to weird cramps, here's how to deal with them.

1. You ache all over

After having my daughter, I felt as if I'd lost a boxing match. My ribs ached, my abdomen throbbed, and my back was sore from the epidural needle. All pretty standard, experts say. "With all the pushing and contortions of labor, it's natural to feel washed out, tired, and achy," says Julian Robinson, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, in New York City. However, the discomfort should last only a few days and can be treated with a prescription or over-the-counter painkiller.

2. You get crampy

Now that it has pushed the baby out, your uterus has to finish its job -- namely, contracting back to its original size. Many women feel the process as abdominal aches and flutters (somewhat akin to menstrual cramps) that grow more pronounced during breast-feeding. If the sensations get too painful, talk to your doctor, who may recommend over-the-counter painkillers. In any event, hang in there -- this cramping shouldn't last longer than a week.

3. Your breasts get huge

In my first hours of motherhood, I wondered how I'd know when my milk came in. Three days later, I found out -- I woke to huge, intensely sore breasts. "One of the best ways to deal with engorgement is to have your baby latch on well and make sure the breast is completely drained," says Freda Rosenfeld, a certified lactation consultant and childbirth instructor in New York City. If your child has trouble latching on, use a pump to stimulate flow. Applying ice packs or bags of frozen peas can ease the pain.

4. You bleed for awhile

Most first-time moms expect some blood at delivery. But many are shocked by how much appears afterward. "No one prepared me for how much I bled," says Ellen Davies, of Zionsville, Indiana. The flow can continue up to four weeks after birth, though it should taper off after two or three days. Use pads for a week or so, and panty liners afterward (but no tampons, which could introduce infection). You'll likely see an increase in flow while nursing, says Shari Brasner, M.D., author of Advice from a Pregnant Obstetrician (Hyperion), because breast-feeding causes uterine contractions. But after the first few days, report any big gushes to your doctor.

5. You sweat during sleep

Right after the birth of her son, Jennifer McCulloch was swamped by night sweats. "I would wake up soaking wet," the Brooklyn mom recalls. Night sweats in the first days after labor are part of your body's natural hormonal-adjustment process. You're still retaining lots of fluid from pregnancy, and sweating is one way your body expels it. The sweats should dry up in a few days, but in the meantime, take one of those crib pads you bought for the baby and place it on your side of the bed to keep the mattress dry.

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