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What You Need To Know About Cramping and Pain After Birth

Uterine contractions after giving birth, otherwise known as afterpains or postpartum contractions, are a normal part of recovery but can also be a source of discomfort for new parents.

As a Registered Nurse, I have witnessed firsthand the experiences of countless new mothers and birthing parents navigating the postpartum period and the journey into parenthood. 

One of the biggest surprises for those who have just given birth is often the afterpains, cramps, or postpartum contractions. I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve just gone through labor and delivery, I’ve brought my baby into the world, and now I’m going to have more contractions?” 

Yes, it’s true, but stay with me! Because knowledge is power, and knowing what to expect will allow you to start your postpartum journey with confidence

Note: this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns.

What are afterbirth contractions? 

Afterbirth contractions are often described as an uncomfortable cramping sensation in the lower abdomen after giving birth. The feeling may resemble the feeling of menstrual cramps that come and go.

Not everyone is going to feel the postpartum contractions. They may be more commonly felt in those who have given birth before.

If this is your first time giving birth, the cramping sensation may be milder, and it is possible that you may not even feel them, but that doesn’t mean that your uterus isn’t healing and going down in size. 

It’s essential to note that no matter how you give birth (vaginally or via cesarean), you might still experience cramping during postpartum recovery.

But why do afterbirth contractions occur, and what purpose do they serve? 

After your baby is born, your body starts the process of involution. This is the process of your uterus returning to its pre-pregnancy size.

The uterus was stretched during pregnancy to accommodate and make room for your growing baby. Now the uterus has to shrink back down. The body is so incredible and knows exactly what to do!

To do this, the uterus contracts and relaxes involuntarily, which can cause a cramping sensation. Another critical purpose of postpartum contractions is to help control bleeding. So although this cramping can be uncomfortable, it is a good thing and serves an essential purpose.

How long will the cramping last? 

This is going to vary from person to person. Afterpains are often most intense in the second or third day after you’ve given birth, then they start to subside slowly. You may notice them up until a week to 10 days postpartum. 

Breastfeeding and postpartum contractions

If breastfeeding your baby, you may be more likely to notice these cramps when your baby is feeding or pumping. This is because breastfeeding triggers the hormone oxytocin to release or “let down” the milk, which is the same hormone that causes uterine contractions. 

What can I do to ease postpartum cramping?

Here are some things you can do to help to minimize the discomfort you may be experiencing from postpartum cramps.

  • Warm compresses
  • Pain medication
  • Rest
  • Positioning

Warm compresses

A warm compress to the lower belly can help promote circulation and relieve cramps. For this purpose, you can consider something like a warm/cold neck and body wrap. In addition to abdominal cramping, this wrap can be used for neck and back tension, cesarean healing, and more.

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Pain medication

Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as Ibuprofen, to help with the pain.

Rest and relaxation

Prioritizing your rest in the postpartum period is so important for recovery. Like with labor, deep breathing exercises can help you cope with the cramping.


Finding a comfortable position, such as lying on your side and using pillows for support, can ease the discomfort by decreasing the pressure that is put on the uterus. 

When to seek help with postpartum contractions

Postpartum cramping is a normal part of recovery. Still, if you are experiencing any severe pain and it becomes difficult to cope with, it is important to consult your healthcare provider. 

Other signs to reach out to your healthcare provider, or report to a healthcare center, include:

  • Excessive bleeding (passing large clots and/or soaking more than a pad in an hour)
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Having a fever 
  • Foul-smelling discharge

Final thoughts on postpartum cramping and afterbirth pains

Each person’s postpartum experience will be unique, and seeking professional guidance is key to personalized care. With time and rest, afterbirth pains will subside, and your body will continue to heal. 

Remember that knowledge is power. I see you researching and spending your time and energy learning about what to expect in the postpartum period so that you can confidently approach motherhood and parenthood. This new role is a big job, and you’re doing great at it.

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