A precious new baby has arrived in your home and it’s getting all the attention. And, that’s how it should be. However, it’s very important to be sure that mom is recovering safely and completely from the birth.

While most moms recover with no problems – except not enough sleep – far too many Arkansas moms have serious health problems after giving birth. Nationally, about 700 women die each year of pregnancy-related causes. More than 50,000 have severe complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). African American women are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy complications than Caucasian or Hispanic women.

During the first year after a woman gives birth, she has a higher risk of physical and mental health problems. Too often, these problems are overlooked as she and the baby’s family focus on the new arrival.

Although they are not common, women of any age can have complications from pregnancy and birth. The risk increases with age. Women aged 35 to 39 are almost twice as likely to die of pregnancy complications as women aged 20 to 24. The risk is even higher for women over age 40.

If you or a family member have a new baby, there are important warning signs you should know about and watch for. If you notice any of these symptoms, trust your instincts and get medical attention. These warning signs can quickly become life-threatening without medical attention.

Post-birth emergencies

For up to a year after giving birth, if you notice any of these symptoms call 911 or get the mother to medical attention immediately. It could save her life.

  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Chest pain that is sharp or dull, chest heaviness, tightness, discomfort or racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Seizure symptoms can last for a few seconds to several minutes and can include muscle spasms, blacking out, dizziness, falling, loss of bladder control, muscles going limp, dropping things, seeing flashes of light, staring blankly into space or eyes rolling back in the head
  • Shock can include pale skin, rapid but weak pulse, rapid but shallow breathing, low blood pressure or mental confusion
  • Fainting, dizziness, light-headedness or weakness
  • Coughing up blood
  • Thoughts of hurting herself or baby

Needs medical attention

The following warning signs, which can happen up to a year after giving birth, mean the mother needs to see a doctor or other health care provider right away. These conditions can quickly advance to a life-threatening emergency. Be sure to mention that you have had a baby.

  • Bleeding that soaks through one sanitary pad in an hour or blood clots the size of an egg could mean a hemorrhage
  • Vaginal discharge or blood with a bad smell, pain or redness that continues or worsens
  • Incision not healing, increased redness or pus from the episiotomy or Cesarean section site
  • Severe stomach pain, nausea or vomiting
  • Pain, swelling or tenderness in legs, especially calves
  • Redness, swelling, warmth or painful lump in breast
  • Swelling in face, hands or legs
  • Fever over 100.4 F
  • Headache that doesn’t get better after taking medicine, or bad headache with vision changes including seeing spots or flashing lights
  • Low urine output, or pain or burning when peeing
  • Feelings of sadness or depression for more than 10 days, including not being able to care for self or baby, feeling sad most of every day, trouble sleeping, severe mood swings, feeling scared or anxious, not bonding or not feeling closeness with the baby, not adjusting to motherhood or feeling like a failure

While families love to dote on a new baby, it is important to remember that the baby’s mother is at risk of complications for up to a year after giving birth. Be sure all your loved ones stay healthy.