Among first-time expectant moms, "after pains" are little known and seldom discussed. Ask any second-time (or beyond) expectant mom about after pains and she knows them all too well. The sensation of uterine contractions in the hours and days after birth -- also known as after pains -- is a normal but typically uncomfortable experience for women. The 40+ weeks of pregnancy cause a woman's uterus to grow 25 times its original size; post-birth contractions help shrink the uterus back down to pre-pregnancy size within about six weeks.
Many women are surprised to find that after pains can feel as powerful as contractions during labor. In my three postpartum experiences with after pains, I had to summon deep breathing and focusing exercises that I used during labor! Breastfeeding helps to stimulate these postpartum contractions, which speeds up the shrinking process, but can also mean added discomfort during feeding sessions in the early days after birth.
While after are pains one of the "necessary evils" of postpartum recovery, there are some things you should know and can do. First, they are very temporary -- typically, within a few days, the uterine contractions will become so subtle that you won't even notice them. There are ways to lessen the discomfort caused by after pains in addition to (or in place of) the hospital standard of ibuprofen or tylenol. For my most recent birth a couple of months ago, my doula brought a rice sock to provide comfort during labor. As it turned out, my birth was way too fast for any of the standard comfort measures! But the warmed rice sock was AMAZING for the after pains. It lay across my abdomen perfectly and provided wonderful relief from the cramping. A heating pad would provide similar relief. Gently massaging your lower abdomen may also feel good during the contractions. Experts also recommend emptying your bladder often as a full bladder causes inefficient uterine cramps. Belly binding, or other forms of abdominal pressure, can also help relieve the pain.
And if all else fails, remind yourself, "My body is working the way it should -- this is shrinking my tummy and slowing my bleeding!"