12 April, 2022
Relieving After Birth Pains
During pregnancy, the uterus grows 900 times it’s usual size. After birth, the uterus continues to contract back down to its pre-pregnancy size over the course of the following few weeks. It’s as comfortable as it sounds. Not very!
Commonly it’s reported that subsequent births are more painful than the last, but that doesn’t mean you need to suffer.
9 Ways to Reduce After Birth Pains
TENS machine can reduce muscle tension, cramps and pain in the uterus.
How to use TENS for afterbirth pains?
Ideally use a unit that has two channels so that you can do both sides at once, like the Elle TENS units we have for hire or purchase. Alternatively, you can do one side at a time if you have a single channel TENS machine. Place an electrode above and below where you feel the pain. This should be appropriately at the top of your uterus as it progressively retracts back into the pelvis.
Slowly increase the intensity according to your comfort level.
Heat soothes and calms the uterine muscles. You can use wheat bags, stick on heat packs or hot water bottles. Make sure not to burn yourself with a hot water bottle by wrapping a towel around or using a cover and not overfilling it.
Pro tip: use high waisted undies to hold heat packs in place over your uterus
Gentle movements can help ease pain. After birth, it’s recommended to rest up to allow your body to heal and recover. If you have energy and it feels comfortable, you can do some gentle, small movements.
Safe gentle exercises for after birth:
- Slow walking
- Pelvic floor activation and relaxation
- Rocking the pelvis backwards and forwards
- Circling the hips around
- Belly breathing
Either use the pads of your fingers or the heel of your hand for a broader contact to massage your lower belly. This can relieve pains but also physically help the uterus to retract.
If you’ve had a C-section, follow the advice of your medical team for when and if this is appropriate for you.
Hydration & Nutrition
Dehydration and nutritional deficiencies can irritate muscles and cause cramps. During the postpartum period, your body is bleeding, sweating and milking. There’s lots to dehydrate us!
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, it’s recommended to increase your water & nutrient intake to accomodate for the increased demands on the body. Eat the colours of the rainbow and a wide variety of foods to ensure you are getting good array of nutrients. Particular nutrients to be aware of include magnesium, potassium, sodium and vitamins B & D.
A relaxing soak — need we say more. Adding some magnesium salts to the bath can relax muscles. This can be beneficial for both afterbirth uterus pains as well as the aches and pains of pregnancy, labour and long hours hunched over holding bubs.
It may also help with healing the perineum and soften haemorrhoids.
How to use a magnesium bath for postpartum recovery?
Use a small amount of magnesium salts in a warm bath. You can also add in witch hazel and essential oils of your choice for some added goodness.
If you’ve had a C-section, check with your doctor before jumping in the bath. When you have the clearance to get into the bath, you might only do a “sitz bath” where you fill the water just up to your sitz bones — the bones your sit on.
If you’ve had stitches, limit the time you spend in the bath to 20 minutes or as advised by your healthcare team. Stitches can soften if you soak for too long.
Once you get out of the bath, pat dry or use a cool hairdryer. Rubbing the perineum or incision site can irritate it.
As the nipple is stimulated and you lovingly stare at your baby, your body produces a chemical called oxytocin. The cool thing about oxytocin is that more than just giving you a joyful bond with your baby, it also causes the smooth muscles of your uterus to continue to contract.
Yes this contraction can be painful however it'll speed up the process for your uterus to return to pre-pregnancy size.
Mindset can make all the difference. The cramps are only short lived and they are your body completing the magic of growing and birthing a new human being! It’s normal physiological sensations— even though it feels a bit intense.
I used to repeat to myself “the innate power that made my baby is healing my body.”
Check with your birthing team what’s appropriate for you if you need medication to deal with the pain. Some medications can interfere with breastfeeding and interact with other medication you may be taking.
Dr Robyn Thompson, a PhD midwife and lactation specialist, reports that medications and supplements can sometimes change the taste of breastmilk (Thompson 2019). If you find your baby is fussy after taking a certain medication, you might ask for an alternative choice. Do remember that babies are naturally fussy anyway.
Natural Pain Killers
There are natural pain relieving solutions as well such as taking magnesium, California poppy and corydalis supplements. Again speak with your health practitioner prior to taking to ensure it’s appropriate and best for you.
Urination can help relieve pressure off the uterus and help it contract down.
Rest may sound obvious when you are so tired. Physical rest means lying down and having people bring you healing foods.
Limit visitors to those who are there to care for you, baby and the rest of the household. You’ll know when you are ready for visitors.
If your cramps and after birth pains are causing you grief, please reach out to your birthing team for specific advice.
About the Author
Dr Cassie Atkinson-Quinton - Chiropractor, Doula, Women's Health Yoga & Pilates Instructor, Spinning Babies Lover
As a Chiropractor, Doula and perinatal Pilates & Yoga instructor, Dr Cassie loves to help pregnant women keep fit, healthy and comfortable. Knowing how empowering it felt to be fit and energetic during the pregnancy of her son inspires Cassie to want this for her patients. Cassie incorporates Spinning Babies, Yoga and Pilates exercises into her prenatal and postpartum Chiropractic sessions. She's currently studying her Graduate Certificate in Women's Health Medicine through the University of New South Wales.
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- Thompson R. The Thompson Method - Professional Edition online course. Accessed 2019.