Common Types of Physical and Emotional Pain Postpartum—And How to Manage

Common Types of Physical and Emotional Pain Postpartum—And How to Manage

Apr 29 , 2021


Megan McDonough

Giving birth is hard work and while it’s easy to shift your entire focus to your baby, don’t neglect yourself in the process. Taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for your baby; especially now, as they are entirely dependent on you for food, shelter and comfort. The most important person in a baby’s life is their mom. You! 

While you recover, take note of where you are feeling pain, whether it’s physical, emotional or both (it often is). We’ve rounded up a few signs to watch out for, as well as some helpful solutions. 

Physical Pain

If something doesn’t feel right or you are concerned about an ache or pain, make sure to consult your doctor or a lactation consultant you trust as soon as possible. It’s easy to assume your pain will go away, but if there is anything wrong it can complicate itself quickly. Similar to pregnancy, things can take a turn for the worse, so pay close attention to anything that doesn't feel right.

Breast pain

You’re new to breastfeeding (or this baby feeds differently than your last) and your body may experience some discomfort as you settle into your feeding routine. There may be nipple sensitivity and pain, especially if you are struggling to get your newborn to latch properly. Remember, pumping can be a great alternative for moms who find feeding from the breast particularly challenging. It might be that your baby has trouble latching or that they won’t latch at all. Breast engorgement is another possible pain point, especially if you aren’t breastfeeding. 

Vaginal pain

Lochia, or vaginal postpartum bleeding is par for the course for many moms. The bleeding itself isn’t usually painful but having to wear large menstrual pads may be uncomfortable. Vaginal tears or an episiotomy—remember, some women tear naturally, while others get an episiotomy—can make daily tasks and even sitting down difficult. If you’ve had a vaginal delivery, you may experience hemorrhoids and these can be both itchy and outright painful. 

C-section pain

If you’ve had a C-section, you may feel pain at your incision point. C-section scars are particularly uncomfortable (ever notice how pregnancy pants are attached to the stretchy part right where the scar is?) for many moms. 

Back pain

In case you missed it, we dedicated a post to how to care for your back while breastfeeding or pumping. Making use of comfortable and supportive pillows should relieve some pain, as is adjusting your position as your baby grows and gets heavier. What works when they weigh 5-pounds will probably not work for you when they weigh 20-pounds or even 30-pounds.

General pain or fatigue

General aches and pains often follow childbirth, so it’s very normal to feel physically exhausted after labor and delivery. Remember to practice self-care whenever you can. 

Emotional Pain

Emotional pain can be easy to hide, but just because you can cover it with a smile, doesn’t mean you should. Here are a few emotions you may experience postpartum. 

Baby blues is a term given to a range of emotions after giving birth, including mood swings, sadness and anxiety are the big three. 

Overwhelm is a big one. You may feel uncertain about your new daily routines or how you are going to ‘do it all’ and still have time for yourself, your job, or your partner. 

Shame or disappointment when you struggle to breastfeed or produce enough milk. Mom shame is definitely a thing, and we encourage you to feel confident in your choices as a mom. After all, you know what’s best for your baby. 

Worry over not doing things the ‘right’ way. For example, you might wonder if you’re bonding with your baby enough, if they are getting enough nourishment or if they are comfortable in their crib. 

Postpartum depression

While the ‘baby blues’ are fairly common in postpartum moms, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. Some of these more serious emotions include confusion, poor concentration, hopelessness, a fear of harming yourself or your baby, low self-esteem and uncontrolled crying with no known reason. 

Other signs might be centered around appetite changes, extreme overwhelm or a lack of interest in your baby. There’s no shame in having postpartum depression and we encourage you to reach out for medical and emotional help, as well as leaning on friends and family that you trust.

Doctors will usually give you a physical and psychiatric evaluation and in some cases, they might choose to test your thyroid levels. This is to determine whether there’s a hormone or metabolic problem that could be contributing to your depression.

Breastfeeding and your sex life

We covered this last week, but it’s worth mentioning again. Breastfeeding can affect your sex life both on a physical level as well as an emotional one. Here are a few examples: 

Sex drive: A big cause for this is hormone fluctuations. When you are pregnant and also when you’re breastfeeding, the hormone prolactin increases as a way to stimulate your breasts to produce milk. 

Vaginal dryness: According to a report published in The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, breastfeeding moms report more pain during sex than moms who use formula. Since nursing elevates prolactin and  lowers estrogen levels, there’s going to be a decrease in blood flow and natural lubrication to the genitals as well. 

With less lubrication, sex can be uncomfortable at best and painful at worst. The best advice we can give is to buy lubricant. It can really help make sex pleasurable after a baby.

Leaky breasts: Leaky breasts will happen if/when your breasts are being stimulated by your partner, or if your breasts are full of breastmilk for your baby. It can also happen during orgasm. 

Irregular periods: When you’re pregnant and nursing, the hormones that bring about your period are suppressed—a term called ‘lactational amenorrhea’—and because of this, it’s hard to know when you’re ovulating. The uncertainty can not only kill the mood, but cause anxiety in new moms that they’ll be pregnant again before they are ready. 

Use condoms or talk to your OBGYN about birth control options that don't disrupt breastfeeding. There are more options than you think.

Ways to Get Help

If you’re suffering from mental or physical pain, there are a few treatments that may help. Medicines such as hormone treatments and antidepressants (sometimes both) can be a huge source of temporary or more permanent relief. 

You can also seek psychological treatment such as therapy and/or peer support groups and educational classes. Exercise is an instant-mood booster and can really make a difference in how you feel throughout the day. One Lilu mom suggested going around the block with your baby.

“It helped my daughter fall asleep and it gave me a chance to breathe fresh air. It really helps clear your thoughts.” — Maria G. 

Finally, look into tools and techniques for managing your stress and increasing relaxation in your day-to-day routine. 

Lilu is a Women’s Health company building tech-enabled devices to empower new moms. Our first product, the Lilu Massage Bra, mimics compression massage, so you can empty your breasts fully to establish, increase and maintain your milk supply. Pump up to 50% more milk each session, all while going hands-free.
Lilu Massage Bra with flanges

Lilu Massage Bra

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