Afterpains...ever heard of them? If you're a first time mom, you may never have! Afterpains are a physiological process that are rarely mentioned in birth classes, by providers, or even talked about in birth circles. Most modern first time mothers don't know that this is part of the normal process of birth and postpartum.
After birth a woman's womb must shrink back down to its original non-pregnant state. Going from a 9-10 month pregnant size uterus to a non-pregnant size uterus takes some work! It's been growing and stretching for over nine months so it makes sense that returning back to the size it was before will take some time and energy. Over the course of a few days after birth the uterus continues to contract to clamp down on blood vessels and control bleeding and also to help it return back to about the size of a fist. These contractions are usually referred to as afterpains.
First time mothers don’t tend to notice these contractions as much and some do not even notice them at all! Their body is doing what it needs to do even when it isn't felt. However, the cramping gets notoriously more intense with subsequent babies and the intensity can sometimes come as a shock to mothers. The cramping is especially felt when nursing since that stimulates oxytocin which then tells your womb to contract. It’s a brilliant design of God for the female body to heal, recover, and prevent complications even with the discomfort. The first day or two you may have to employ some of your labor strategies to work through the postpartum cramping, they can be that intense!
The following are some effective ways to help manage afterpains and things to possibly have on hand to help:
• Magnesium - Magnesium is a mineral that so many women are deficient in is also very helpful. It's critical for muscle function and soreness as well as sleep, constipation, anxiety, and nerve function...all of which can be postpartum issues! I wonder if the depletion of magnesium in many women in our society, which can be exacerbated through each pregnancy and breastfeeding, is part of the reason that these afterpains intensify with each baby. I have a feeling that this is one of the reasons that the intensity leveled off for me after baby four. I was really diligent during that pregnancy and the ones after about taking magnesium supplements for other issues, inadvertently also helping with the afterpains process! There are a lot of magnesium supplements and varieties to sort through. The one I have found most effective for treating restless legs and muscle cramping is magnesium glycinate.
• Afterease - This is a really helpful herbal tincture from WishGarden Herbs designed just for this purpose! Every midwife I know uses it and it's a standard part of many birth supply kits. It's used as needed the first few days. Most women take it straight under the tongue. I was able to use this alone to manage the afterpains with a few babies. I prefer to buy any birth supplies I can through small birth business shops like In His Hands or Precious Arrows. However, if you need to buy through Amazon you can find it here.
• Arnica - Arnica is an effective homeopathic remedy for muscle soreness and pain. This means it is helpful for the afterpains but also any general muscles soreness after birth. Most recommend doses at 4-5 pellets every 2-3 hours the first day and as symptoms persist. You can purchase it at any health food store or here on Amazon.
• Deep breathing and prayer - When an afterpain contraction is coming, taking deep intentional breaths, closing my eyes, and releasing and relaxing my muscles as best as possible (similar to labor) is how I get through the most intense sensations. Like labor, you can also use these sensations for prayer and as an offering for an intention.
• A warm rice pack or heating pad on your abdomen - Use as needed to ease any discomfort. Possibly have someone get it ready before you know you're about to nurse and obviously, not too hot.
• Water - Staying hydrated will help your muscles work effectively and ease some of the discomfort. Dehydration makes muscles more sore and can prolong the process of your uterus returning to non-pregnant state. Hydration is also important for overall recovery and for milk production. Straight water, electrolyte drinks, and coconut water are all good options.
• Empty the bladder frequently - On related note, a very full bladder can sometimes get in the way of your uterus contracting effectively (why it's important to empty your bladder soon after birth to help control bleeding) and when the uterus is contracting it can make contractions more painful. So being sure to use the bathroom frequently can also help lessen the severity of afterpains.
• Ibuprofen - Not my first go-to but it is effective when needed when other things aren't enough. (If you’re in a hospital you can bring your own and save you or your insurance company hundreds of dollars.)
It's helpful to remember that these pains (like labor!) are actually doing something really important for your body. Even when difficult, they are your body's divinely designed way to help you heal and recover from birth. Your body is beautifully and intentionally designed for pregnancy, birth, AND for postpartum. So allowing them to work, do what they need to do, trying to view them in the most positive light, and with tools available to help is a beautiful way to honor your body and the life-giving work it has done and is still doing.
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