*Everything here is general information and not health advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to make sure this is right for you*
Infections can happen in up to 5% of postpartum people in the six weeks after birth, but the symptoms can be super vague... fatigue, low appetite, or feeling achey, these are all things that anyone who just had a baby might feel in those first days and weeks. We have broken down the things to be concerned about, and when you can probably just focus on baby and rest!
Giving birth, whether vaginally or by c-section, is a very major process that leaves birthing people feeling tired, sore, and overwhelmed! Heading home from the hospital with a new baby, usually just a day or two postpartum, opens up a whole new level of exhaustion that compounds those feelings. Add onto that an illness such as a postpartum infection, and you have the recipe for a less than blissful postpartum period. An infection can rear its ugly head in many places, basically anywhere there is an open wound like your uterus, your perineum, your c-section incision; or even where an IV or bladder catheter was placed. Here's how to know the signs and symptoms of an infection, to help you decide if it's just normal postpartum fatigue, or something more.
First off, who is most at risk of developing a postpartum infection?
The more openings bacteria have to enter your body, the bigger your risk of developing an infection is. So, if you have a c-section, which is an open abdominal surgery, you are more likely to have an infection once baby comes than those who give birth vaginally. The healthcare team knows this, and routinely gives antibiotics as the c-section is beginning to try to mitigate this.
On that same line of thinking, if you have multiple pokes for blood work, or IV's, or catheters placed in your bladder, this does increase your chance of infection.
If you have a more invasive tear in your vagina or perineum, like a 3rd or 4th degree tear, you are also more likely to have an infection postpartum. The medical team takes great care to repair these tears, and to them treat you afterwards with antibiotics, to decrease the chances of infection.
All of these procedures are done by trained professionals, who would be cleansing your skin with an antiseptic solution prior to any of the procedures. This will help to decrease your risk of infection, but unfortunately sometimes infection still occurs.
So, what does an infection look like in a newly postpartum person?
Since the symptoms of infection we noted above like low energy and appetite, or feeling achey and tired are all things that almost all new parents experience at some point in the first few weeks of their baby's life, how are we going to spot a true infection?
The most telltale sign would be a fever. We have all become pretty knowledgeable about fevers given the state of the world over the last few years, but here's a refresher. A fever is a temperature of above 38° Celsius (or 100.4° Fahrenheit). This is your bodies way of trying to kill the bacteria in your body, literally by cooking it to smithereens! If you have a fever, that is definitely not just normal postpartum fatigue, and a sign that you need to get some help with your symptoms.
"I couldn't figure out if I was just exhausted from being up with the baby, or if it was something more. Then on the third day I took my temp, and it was 38.7°, and I knew I was getting sick." – Postpartum client who experienced endometritis
A few other things to watch for once you bring baby home.
Besides a fever, you might also notice chills or feeling like you can't get warm no matter how many layers you put on. Additionally, you could notice redness at any of those sites where you had your skin poked or opened like an IV site or stitched in your perineum. If you notice any strange looking or foul smelling discharge, this would also be worrisome.
Sometimes the infection isn't visible from the outside
When your placenta leaves your uterus, there is essentially a wound there, from where the two were holding together for the last many months. That wound begins to close as soon as the placenta is born, and it shrink significantly in the first few days. It doesn't fully heal for a few weeks though, and because of this, it is possible to develop inflammation in your uterine lining, called endometritis. This is not to be confused with endometriosis, which is when parts of the uterine lining spread and grow outside of the uterus.
Endometritis can cause feelings of fullness or pain in your lower abdomen. Sometimes it's hard to tell if this is just regular uterine cramps, known as afterpains, so it's important to let your healthcare team know if you feel that pain for an extended period of time, or if it is accompanied by any of the other signs or symptoms of infection we have talked about.
Ok, so now that we've terrified your, what now?!
First of all, please don't be afraid, remember that it is just a small amount of people who experience this, so you most likely will be part of that crew! But if you do find yourself in this predicament, we want you to recognize the symptoms and seek help! Call 811 or your local health line, or call your healthcare providers office. If you live in an area where public health nurses make home visits to newly postpartum families, call them and ask for a visit pronto.
Work to take good care of yourself, keeping yourself hydrated and well-nourished. This will probably mean prepping some things before baby comes that you can grab easily!
You might also want to ask your healthcare team about adding a pre and probiotic into your regular routine. This can help make your good bacteria in your body as rich and full as possible, to keep those bad bugs at bay!
You can also make sure to have good hygiene. This sounds like a no-brainer, but honestly when you are home with a brand new baby, the thought of scrubbing your hands for a full 20 seconds, or taking a shower sometimes go right out the window. Try to prioritize your wellness as much as you can, though, as this can really help keep bad bacteria away!
If you have a fever, or feel super crappy, don't chalk it up to the new parent exhaustion. Just because the routine care for postpartum parents is usually a measly single visit at 6 weeks postpartum, does not mean that you can't see your healthcare provider sooner! Call your GP, Midwife, or OB if you are concerned that you are getting sick! We need you as healthy and strong as possible to care for your new little bundle!
If you thought this information was helpful, you should see our classes!! We share this kind of information and SO MUCH MORE in all of our classes, to ensure that you are empowered with education and enter parenthood feeling safe and secure in your abilities!
Our next Pregnancy to Parenthood class starts March 2nd! We would love to have you!
Loreli & Sara