Postpartum Infections: Types, Symptoms & Treatment

Postnatal Infections – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rima Sonpal (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Giving birth to your little one may have been the most rewarding yet challenging thing you’ve ever done in your life. After your body has gone through one of the biggest changes it can experience, taking care of your physical and mental well-being is vital. While a certain amount of bleeding and fatigue is to be expected after delivery, some conditions require more intense medical attention. No matter how much care you may try to take, sometimes catching an infection is inevitable. There are many open wounds in the uterus and also open lacerations around the vaginal area and the cervix after delivery. This makes the body weaker and more prone to catching infections. Let’s find out what are these postpartum or postnatal infections, and how you can deal with them.

What Are Postpartum Infections?

Infections that are caused by the delivery, vaginal or caesarean, and even during breastfeeding are called postpartum infections. This happens when bacteria infect the uterus and surrounding areas after a woman gives birth. Postpartum infections are also called puerperal infections.

How Common Are They?

Today, about two per cent of women who undergo normal vaginal deliveries develop postpartum infections. This rate increases to about ten per cent in the case of complicated deliveries, and to fifty per cent in the case of caesarean delivery, if preventative antibiotics are not given.

Who Is at the Highest Risk of Getting Postpartum Infections?

Women who have had caesarean deliveries, premature membrane ruptures, prolonged use of internal foetal monitoring, and those suffering from anaemia are prone to getting these infections.

Causes of Post-Delivery Infections

Here are some common causes of post-delivery infections, that a woman may experience:

  • The small cut made at the vaginal opening in order to make it easier for the baby’s head to come out is called an episiotomy. If this wound gets infected, it can lead to a postpartum infection.
  • When labour is prolonged, and repeated vaginal inspections take place in unsanitary conditions, postpartum infections may occur.
  • If the placenta is not expelled and remains in the uterus for up to thirty minutes after the delivery, the placenta will have to be removed manually. This manual removal of the placenta can lead to postpartum infections.
  • Infections of other pelvic organs like the ovaries can cause postpartum infections.
  • Sometimes infections can occur from infected vaginal sanitary pads.

Symptoms of Puerperal Infection

Postpartum infection symptoms do not always appear when the mother is in the hospital. They may start to show up anytime within ten days after the childbirth. Some of the signs of postpartum infection are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Tenderness and pain in the infected area
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Problems in passing urine or stool

Most Common Types of Infections After Delivery

Some of the most common postpartum infections are as follows:

  1. Postpartum Haemorrhage: This happens when the uterus is unable to contract the way it should after the placenta has been delivered or if there are any lacerations in the uterus, vagina, or cervix.
  1. Uterine Infection: Any infection that may be present in the amniotic sac at the time of delivery can lead to uterine infection. Uterine infection can also be caused when pieces of the placenta are stuck inside the uterus.
  1. Caesarean Wound Infection: Infections in the caesarean wound can develop a few days after delivery. If you experience any redness, swollen skin, or discharge, get yourself checked by a doctor as soon as possible.
    Caesarean Wound Infection
  1. Perineal Pain: The area between the rectum and vagina is known as the perineum. It is not uncommon to experience pain in this area, but if the tissues tore or stretched during the delivery, then you will experience a feeling of swelling or soreness in this area.
  1. Heavy Vaginal Discharge: Women experience heavy vaginal discharge for the first few weeks after delivery. This discharge consists of all the blood and placenta remains. At first, it will be bloody with clots in it, but it will start to turn pink, and then eventually white until it stops altogether. If after two weeks the discharge is still bloody and foul-smelling, alert your doctor immediately.


Proper diagnosis is based on the results of some physical examinations. Sometimes a diagnosis can be made even when a woman has a fever and no other symptom. Usually, urine samples are taken to be cultured and then checked for bacteria that might be causing the problem.

Why Should You Be Concerned About Infection After Childbirth?

If infections go undetected or untreated, they can lead to blood clots, infections in the kidneys, which cause kidney problems, and infections in the bloodstream can sometimes cause sepsis. Most often, though, these infections can be treated, and the biggest problem lies with it taking time away from bonding and caring for your baby. Seek medical help if you have even the slightest feeling that something is not right.

Management and Treatment of Postnatal Infections

The treatments for postpartum infections are:

  1. General Treatment:

Bed rest, drinking a lot of fluids, maintaining a balanced diet, and medicines. In the case of severe breast infections, the mother may pass it along to the newborn, and she should not breastfeed her baby until she recovers. A breast pump can be utilised to express the milk to prevent breast engorgement or breast abscess.

2. Local Treatment:

In the case of episiotomies, the stitches will need to be removed so that the puss can be drained.

Sometimes some tissues are retained in the uterus, causing a uterus infection after birth. These should be removed very gently. If the uterus is too fragile, the mother should be put on antibiotics for a couple of days before removal is attempted.

To avoid vaginal infections, clean vaginal pads must be used and changed frequently.

Educate yourself on the proper care of wounds after delivery as taking care of this will reduce the chances of developing any kind of infection. Make sure to wash your hands before handling your wounds and always wipe from front to back when needed. In order to manage your postpartum bleeding, do not use tampons as these are meant to be inserted into the vagina. If they are contaminated, they will carry infections directly inside. Always remember to see your doctor at the first sign of fever and keep them informed of any discomfort you might be feeling. This way, you can be sure of whether you are experiencing regular postpartum pains, or if the case is more serious.

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