A Little Postpartum Surprise: Afterpains!

Nursing often triggers afterpains in the first few days after birth, particularly when you have had more than one child.

Postpartum afterpains.  What are they?

I remember a friend of mine who was having her fourth baby around the time I had my first baby talking about something I had never heard of before: Afterpains.

She said that they were worse than labor and one of the reasons she thought she would stop with four kids!

"What the heck are afterpains?!" I thought. 

To tell the truth, I didn't even have them at all with my first baby.  But my friend was right- afterpains, or the postpartum cramping you experience after the baby comes, do tend to get a little more intense with each subsequent pregnancy.

Often women don't notice afterpains after their first baby, but they do notice them if they have more children than one.  The uterine cramping that occurs, especially when nursing and your body naturally clamps down with the flow of oxytocin, can be difficult to deal with.

You may have noticed, but I am on the far end of the crunchy spectrum.  I won't get into my crunchy "accomplishments,"  but I will admit that there is a familiar scene played out in my home after I have a baby.

"GIVE ME THE ALEVE!  And don't give me that LOOK!!!"  (Hubby disapproves of pain relief of the unnatural sort.  But he is not allowed to mention it after I have a baby.)

In fact, after my fourth they were so strong that I was scared to nurse.  This made me really sad actually, because I am so grateful to be able to breastfeed my babies and I didn't want to avoid it like the plague. 

Ladies- I don't think you should have to suffer postpartum or fear nursing your sweet baby.   Here are some things I wish I had known about to help deal with the postpartum cramping.  Hope it helps you.

Many thanks to the smart ladies on the Mama Birth Facebook page!


~Practicing your relaxation exercises again

~Deep breathing

~Earth Mama Angel Baby Comfort Tea

~Skullcap and cramp bark tincture

~Hot stone massage (A+ for the midwife that does that!)

~Tylenol with Codine, Motrin, Aleve, Advil, Motrin, etc (check with your care provider for something that is safe while nursing.)


~Staying hydrated!

~Hot water bottle or heated rice packs (on the abdomen)


~Hot tea with milk

~Liquid calcium-magnesium

~Abdominal wrapping


~Stool softeners (I don't know if this helps with the cramping, but it can make you less fearful of the first bowel movement, especially if you had any tearing.)

There is some good news too.  Afterpains usually last only a few days, and definitely not longer than two weeks.  They also give you a really good excuse to relax and let other people take care of you for a little while.  Word on the street is that after 5 or 6 babies they don't get any worse either!  So, no need to limit your family size on account of these!  

Good luck ladies, and enjoy your babymoon. 

(And feel free to add more suggestions~)


Woohoo...........I'm having #5 any day now, so I'm getting close to the 'doesn't get any worse after this' mark?!? Honestly I always forget about afterpains and I was just gearing myself up for the drug-free homebirth. No really, its a good topic. Skullcap and motherwort got me thru my last very intense birth and so after that it occured to me to take both supplements before I started each nursing session. It wasn't without pain but help when I remembered far enough in advance.
Mommy Baby Spot said…
I was surprised that they got worst when I had my second...my let down got painful too...I heard that gets worse with each baby :/
Tracy said…
I was terrified to pump after having my first son (he was a micropreemie) because the nurses kept scaring me about after pains. And I felt nothing! I did feel them some with my second.
Sara said…
I would get so cranky when the afterpains would hit after my second a few weeks ago. So much worse than labor; pretty sure that I had more of those than I had contractions in my 2.5 hour birth.
If my husband changes his mind and I ever get to have another I will have to remember these suggestions!
Diana said…
Afterpains have been my Waterloo! With my first, they were so bad that I could not hold or nurse the baby after he was born. And they stuck around for 6+ weeks. It stank!! So I have worked and worked and WORKED on developing a plan to work on them, and they've gotten successfully better with each baby. What I do: Lots of Advil, within seconds of birth, liquid calcium-magnesium supplement taken during pregnancy and postpartum, an afterpains tincture from a local herb store, homeopathic arnica, and placenta medicine - immediately in a smoothie, then later in either smoothies or encapsulated. This past time was my best yet!!
momto5 said…
the afterpains were a shock for sure. after the first two i didn't have any, but by baby 6.... DANG! knock your butt out. i would take advil, but i like the heating pad idea. wish i had thought of that.
@Mommy Baby Spot: my let downs have been much more intense with every child as well, but thankfully after a few weeks everything is back to normal. lol
this last time around every time i would nurse (the first month or so) i felt like crying. i wasn't sad or anything, i just felt like weeping. sometimes i did, but not every time. than it went away. weird.
They were a total suprise after my second baby and had my husband running to the drug store at 4am for hydrocodone. I'm pretty crunchy, too, but after these babies, I stock up on the 800mg IB and hydrocodone and keep them coming on a two hour rotation along with arnica and plaenta because I do NOT want to deal with the afterpains. I can have an unmedicated birth, but this cramping is something totally different.
MentalMom said…
Afterpains- feel like contractions but harder to.cope with because birthing a blood clot isn't as emotionally rewarding as a baby.

Afterpains pretty much peaked with baby #5 and 7. I had none with baby #6 which scared my midwife who thought I was at risk for secondary hemorrhage and sent me home with methergine. Baby #10 a fee weeks ago was no worse.than #5.

Since narcotics just make me tired and constipation worse I stick with Motrin which isn't ideal with my history but I need to do.something so I can nurse my baby without wanting to throes up.
Melissa said…
I've experienced much of what these women have expressed, up through my sixth delivery. I found I had to breathe through the afterpains just like breathing through the contractions of labor. BUT,with numbers 7, 8, and 9 I didn't have any! I'm crunchy, too, and HATE to take a pill just because someone said so, but for the post-delivery discomfort I do take ibuprofen. My mantra to other mommies is that I have found it is much easier to stay ahead of the pain than to try to catch up to it. So, as another commmenter said, I take ibuprofen shortly after birth and stay on top of the six hour schedule for about four days.
I have also noticed SIGNIFICANT help once I started wrapping my belly after delivery with a BeBand. Highly recommend it! It only makes sense in my opinion--the muscles have been stretched for 9 months and suddenly they're sorta left hanging! :)
I am interested to try the more natural remedies you suggested if God grants us a next time!
After my fourth, they lasted for a week, and yes, worse than labor. A heating pad on the back and front- with me camped out for a week on the recliner worked great for me! :)
Joy@WDDCH said…
Had my fourth in Sept and I can testify to this! I was in so much pain and could barely walk.
Anonymous said…
I didn't even notice the after pains until after babies 5 and 6. I was in the hosp and had pit. Is it better without pit? I'm having 7 at home and hoping for less discomfort.
Jessi said…
Oh yes! Nobody ever told me about these and they were a delightful surprise after baby #2. :/ I rarely take drugs for pain, and had given birth naturally for the second time, but I was like, "Pass me the pills" because it was making me dread breastfeeding.

After baby #3 they were even worse and I asked my husband, "How did your mother do this SIX times?!? They get worse every time?!?!!" (One was a set of twins, those after pains have got to take the cake). He's from a village in Egypt and they were all born at home. That was normal then, not anymore.
Ktietje85 said…
Arnica. With my third baby especially (which was a rapid labor, and I've heard this can make afterpains worse also) they were so intense while nursing I could not cope or be still. But I wouldn't take OTC meds...don't even keep them in the house. I took homeopathic arnica every 4 hours around the clock for the first few days and they took the edge off enough to be bearable.

I am due in 8 weeks, give or take, with #4, and I am researching herbs to prepare a tincture this time. I really like herbal tinctures and a multivitamin one got me through morning sickness with minimal issues so I am planning to try it post-birth as well (with different herbs, obviously). There are many versions but what calls out to me, based on research and what works for our family, are motherwort, cramp bark, catnip...I am not sure what else yet.
val said…
I bummed dental narcotics off relatives to have on hand for afterpains.

Edge, nothing.

I'd think, "Oh, it's okay," and shortly be rubbing my feet together, then writhing in misery, clammy and gasping.

This is no way to nurse a newborn. If anyone has remedies that work as well as percodan, good enough.

Afterpains, ugh. love, Val

Unknown said…
I have a 12 X 24 heating pad I wrap around my middle and turn way up. It works great, I just have to put something between the pad and the baby so they don't heat up too. The pad is awesome!
Unknown said…
Oh hell yes. After baby number three, I discovered, thanks to my midwife, this little tincture called After Ease. (http://www.1cascade.com/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=2133)

Heaven. In. A. Bottle. I put the recommended dosage in a cup of skullcap tea and *melt* so nice. SO nice. Karen made me a cup of this right after he was born (for his first nursing) and OH BABY. Can't say enough positive things about what a blessing that tincture was for me.

To put it in perspective for those who don't know, in the hospital, after my first, the nurse who didn't realize I was a premip offered me oxycodone. Apparently it was on the list of approved prescriptions for moms by the Dr. on call. Yeh, it can get that bad. Thankfully, that tincture (or really, anything that helps you really relax) makes a huge difference. I've never needed more than a strong dose of ibuprofen.
Unknown said…
BTW, LOVE the new look!

I will mention this only as a fellow blogger, nothing else: if I don't comment often it's because the word check thingy drives me batty.
Kylie said…
I had bad afterpains when my third baby was born. Then during my 4th pregnancy, I discovered the Blissful Herbs products. I stocked up on some of the teas and herbal infusions. When my baby was born, I started on the 'afterbirth bliss' tea and did not have any afterpains at all. It was amazing.
Corinne said…
Something to try: My sister (with 5) said (and I'll be trying this in a few weeks when I have my 2nd) that only "eating" / drinking primarily 1-ingredient foods, such as broths, makes it to where she doesn't have the afterpains at all. ..unless she decides she really has to add something solid, then it brings on the pains again.

She said the best thing to do, for more flavorful broths, is to make them ahead of time & freeze them so that they can be heated once you've had the baby. Making your own bone broths with veggies & such during the process can produce a rich broth to drink for the days after giving birth.

I'm going to try this. Hopefully it works, and hopefully it will help some of you out there as well.
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