Understanding Afterpains: The Cause of Postpartum Cramps

PĒPI Hakihea
MĀMĀ Kayla Wilson
PHOTOGRAPHY Catherine Smith @catherinesmithphotography

They’re a normal occurrence following birth, but they can be intensely painful for some women.

Are you experiencing unexpected afterpains? If you’re feeling contraction-like pains after childbirth, you’re not in labour again… we promise. Your uterus is going through a process called involution which is a completely normal part of being postpartum. Essentially, each time you breastfeed your baby, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin to help the uterus contract down to its pre-pregnancy size. During this process, you may feel these ‘afterpains’ which are like contractions or menstrual cramps. Many birthing people report feeling them more strongly with second and subsequent babies but they should only last for a few days at most.

Here are some tips that may help:

  • If you’re experiencing significant discomfort from your afterpains, let your LMC or a midwife or nurse know – they may offer you some pain relief to help.
  • You may also find it useful to use the same breathing and relaxation techniques you practised during labour.
  • Regularly emptying your bladder will ensure your uterus can contract efficiently.
  • Some birthing people who used a TENS machine during labour use it postpartum for managing afterpains.
  • Apply a warm heating pad or hot water bottle to your abdomen to soothe the discomfort.