If you’ve just recently delivered your baby and find yourself with a slightly elevated temperature, you should know that postpartum fever is common and can happen for a number of reasons.
A slight fever is usually nothing to worry about and goes away on its own. A fever might also be a sign of a more serious infection or complication, though — so it’s important to have it checked out.
Here’s what to know about postpartum fever and when to see your doctor.
Common causes of a fever after delivery or pregnancy are:
Infection after C-section
You might have a higher chance of having a fever after pregnancy if you had a C-section (cesarean delivery).
- redness or swelling on the incision site
- pus or liquid coming out of the incision site
- bleeding or opening of the incision site
- severe stomach pain
- severe pain at the incision site
- painful urination
- smelly vaginal discharge
Endometritis is an infection of the lining of the womb (uterus). This common infection can lead to postpartum fever. If you have endometritis, you might have a fever 2 to 3 days after delivery. This kind of infection can happen for many reasons, like:
- a C-section delivery
- a long labor or delivery
- if the placenta had to be removed by hand after delivery
- if your baby had a bowel movement inside the womb during delivery
- a forceps delivery (tongs were used to guide your baby’s head through the birth canal) or use of other devices
- prolonged rupture of membranes
- preexisting vaginal infections
- gestational diabetes
- preterm or postterm birth
- group B strep colonization
Along with a postpartum fever, you may have other symptoms of endometritis:
- vaginal bleeding (although this occurs postpartum regardless)
- a sore or tender lower abdomen
- pain in the lower abdomen
- smelly vaginal discharge
A uterine or womb infection can also happen if pieces of the placenta or other tissue are left in the womb.
Mastitis is an infection in the breast tissue. You can get this infection whether or not you’re breastfeeding.
Milk ducts or tubes carry milk from the breast gland to the nipple. If one of these ducts gets clogged, milk builds up within the breast and causes inflammation. This can lead to mastitis.
Common symptoms of mastitis include:
- inflammation or swelling and redness
- pain and tenderness
- headache pain
- red streaks on the breasts
- painful lumps in the breast
- flu-like symptoms
You might also have a mild fever when you first start producing milk. This happens because the breasts might swell too much and get inflamed when milk first starts to come in. The swelling and fever typically go away within 24 hours.
When you have cracked or irritated nipples, bacteria can sometimes get into the breast tissue and lead to an infection and fever as well.
Urinary tract infection
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is common in general as well as being a common cause of postpartum fever.
Bacteria living on the skin can get into the urinary tract during birth, causing a UTI with a fever. You’re more likely to get a UTI if you had a catheter (tube) placed in the bladder to relieve pressure during and after labor, especially if the catheter was in for a while.
It’s normal to feel some stinging and pain when you pee after delivery. If you have a UTI, you may have also have a fever and other symptoms, like:
- lower back pain
- side pain
- continued painful urination
- frequent urination
- feeling like your bladder isn’t emptying
- feeling like you need to urinate often, even if nothing comes out
Your body has lots of healing to do after delivery. This can include healing from tears and stitches inside your body and tears and stitches outside your body. For example, you might need stitches after an episiotomy — a cut at the vaginal opening to make the birth canal larger.
You might get a mild postpartum fever from swelling and inflammation as your body heals. You can have a higher fever and other symptoms if there’s an infection inside your body.
If you have a postpartum fever, don’t ignore it. Tell your doctor right away. A fever can be a sign that something isn’t quite right in your body.
Get medical treatment right away if you have additional symptoms, such as:
- a fever that is higher than 100.4ºF (38ºC)
- leg pain or swelling
- severe stomach pain
- vaginal bleeding that soaks a pad within an hour
- bleeding that has large clots
- bleeding from an incision site
- pus at an incision site
If you have an infection like a UTI, endometritis, or mastitis, you’ll need medical treatment (typically in the form of antibiotics) to avoid serious complications. Let your doctor know about postpartum fever and any other symptoms right away.
Infections can spread or lead to other health problems if they’re not treated right away. Postpartum fever due to more serious infections inside the body may need IV antibiotics through a needle and a short stay in hospital.
In most cases, a mild postpartum fever goes away on its own. You can help prevent fevers by helping to prevent infections. But you won’t always be able to prevent an infection, no matter how careful you are.
If you have a C-section delivery, make sure to take all medication and keep the incision area clean. A 2019 study found that women who took the antibiotic azithromycin after an unplanned C-section were less likely to have a postpartum fever, so you can ask your doctor if that’s right for you.
Other ways to help prevent infections and postpartum fever include:
- cleansing with warm water from a bottle or spray bottle every time you use the bathroom
- changing bandages as often as recommended by your doctor
- washing your nipples before and after breastfeeding your baby
- if you’re not breastfeeding but have milk production, squeezing out just enough milk to relieve pressure
- applying cold packs or washed green cabbage leaves on your breasts
- applying witch hazel pads on incision sites
Over-the-counter fever and pain reducers that are safe if you’re breastfeeding include:
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Postpartum fever is common and can happen for many reasons. In rare cases, a postpartum fever might be a sign of a health problem like an infection. This can lead to health complications if untreated. Let your doctor know if you have a fever or other symptoms.