The sensation of uterine contractions in the hours and days after birth are known as "after pains," and while normal and necessary, are uncomfortable and catch parents off guard. The 40+ weeks of pregnancy cause the uterus to grow 25 times its original size; post-birth contractions are part of the "involution" process, which shrinks the uterus back down to pre-pregnancy size, within about six weeks.
First-time parents often report feeling surprised by the intensity of after pains. While not as strong as labor contractions, some of these contractions might make you pause, concentrate, and rely on some deep breathing until it's over. In my own three experiences with after pains, I turned to the same deep breathing and focusing exercises that I used during labor!
Breast/chest feeding helps stimulate these postpartum contractions, which helps speed the shrinking process, and means you may experience cramping from contractions during feeding sessions in the early days after birth.
While uncomfortable, after pains are short lived. Within a few days, the uterine contractions will become so subtle that you won't even notice. In the meantime, you can reduce the discomfort caused by after pains by using heat (rice sock or heating pad) as well as by taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen. After my third birth, my doula brought a rice sock for use during labor, but the biggest bonus was being able to use it after birth to reduce the after pains cramping. It felt amazing!
Some people also find relief by gently massaging your lower abdomen while experiencing after pain contractions. Experts recommend emptying your bladder often after you give birth since having a full bladder can cause uterine contractions to be less efficient. Belly binding, or other forms of abdominal pressure, can also help relieve after pains.
The experience of after pains will vary from person to person. Many people report experiencing more intense after pains with each new baby's birth, though this is not true for everyone.
If you experience more severe pain or pain that does not go away at any point in time after you give birth, contact your doctor immediately, as this may be a sign of a serious condition and should be evaluated by a professional.