Hesperian Health Guides
Chapter 22: Helping a woman after a pregnancy ends early
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Sometimes a pregnancy ends early. With miscarriage the woman simply starts bleeding or having contractions until the pregnancy comes out. When a pregnancy is ended on purpose, it is called an abortion.
Most miscarriages do not cause problems, but some do. Most abortions done by people who are experienced and skilled, and with tools that have been sterilized or the correct medicines, are not dangerous. But many abortions are not done safely.
A woman can have serious health problems when a pregnancy ends early. Part of the pregnancy may be left in the womb. She may have heavy bleeding or infection. Without treatment, she could die. This chapter will explain how to:
- watch for warning signs.
- give emergency care to a woman who has a problem from a pregnancy that ended early.
- 1 Finding care after a pregnancy ends
- 2 Emotional support after a pregnancy ends
- 3 Physical care after a pregnancy ends
Finding care after a pregnancy ends
Women who have bleeding or infection after miscarriages or abortions need medical help fast. But often they do not get this help. There may be no money to pay for care if something has gone wrong. For women in isolated villages, a trip to the hospital in the city can be too far, too frightening, or too expensive. Many women, especially unmarried women, feel they must hide their condition because of attitudes against sex, family planning, or abortion. Fear, lack of money, and distance from medical care should not be reasons for women to suffer — but they often are.
Midwives can help save many women’s lives, because midwives are usually the closest and most trusted health workers in their communities. When a woman who is sick or injured knows there is someone kind and skilled nearby who does not charge a lot of money for services, she is more likely to get the care she needs to prevent her death.
Making a decision to help
Some midwives are afraid to care for women who have had unsafe abortions. They may think they will be blamed for causing the abortion. But even in places where abortion is not legal, it is legal to save the lives of women who are suffering after unsafe abortion.
Some midwives do not want to care for women after unsafe abortions because they believe that abortion is wrong. But caring for a woman who is in danger after an unsafe abortion is not the same as doing an abortion. After an unsafe abortion, a woman may die if she does not get help. When women are sick, for any reason, midwives must help them.
Emotional support after a pregnancy endsWomen who have had miscarriages or abortions may feel afraid, sad, or upset — especially if they have health problems that are caused by the miscarriage or abortion. This emotional pain is just as important as the pain women have in their
When a woman has a miscarriage, she may be very disappointed that her pregnancy ended. She may feel guilty — and wrongly think that the miscarriage was her own fault. See more information on what can cause miscarriages and how to care for and support a woman after a miscarriage.
Usually, a woman who is having serious health problems because of an abortion did not get good care. An abortion provider who did not do a safe abortion may have also been disrespectful or unkind. The abortion may have been very painful or frightening for the woman. When abortion is illegal, a woman may be afraid of being punished. Be sure to give these women extra care.
Midwives can help a woman with emotional pain
- Explain what is causing the illness or bleeding.
- Explain what you are doing to help.
- If she does not want to become pregnant again, help her choose a family planning method that is right for her.
Listen and give support
- Ask her if she wants to talk about how she feels. She may not tell you unless you ask.
- Listen to her if she wants to talk or cry.
- Reassure her the way you would reassure a loved one or friend.
Do not blame the woman for being sick
Some people think that women get sick because they deserve to be sick. For example, some midwives think that women who have miscarriages lose their pregnancies because they are bad people. Others think that women who get sick after abortion are being punished for having the abortion. The truth is that no one deserves to be sick, and everyone deserves to be cared for when they are sick.
Blaming women for their own sickness does not help them become healthy.
Physical care after a pregnancy ends
Check the woman’s physical signs — like her temperature, pulse, and the amount she is bleeding. This will tell you what kinds of medical help she needs.
- Mild pains or cramps in the lower belly for a few days.
- Light bleeding (up to the same amount as normal monthly bleeding) for a few days or very light spotting for up to 2 weeks.
- Strong cramping in the lower belly.
- Swollen or hard lower belly.
- Heavy bleeding, large clots of blood, or bleeding for more than 2 weeks.
- Bad smell from the vagina. Healthy signs Warning signs
- High temperature, 38°C (100.4°F) or above.
- Fast pulse, over 100 beats a minute.
- Feeling very nauseated.
- Feeling faint or dizzy.
You should also ask her about this pregnancy.
Find out how long she was pregnant. A woman whose miscarriage or abortion happened early in her pregnancy is easier to help than a woman whose miscarriage or abortion happened later. If a woman was pregnant for more than 3 months and is now having problems, get medical help.
Ask how the pregnancy ended. If the woman had a miscarriage or if her abortion was provided by a trained health worker who used sterile tools, she is less likely to have serious infection or injury than a woman whose abortion was done by someone who used unsafe tools. For example, if the woman tells you that someone used a sharp wire to give her an abortion, you will know to look for signs of injury inside the body.
The rest of this chapter describes how to help a woman who is having problems after a miscarriage or abortion.
Tell women how to care for themselves
A woman should take good care of herself for a few days after any miscarriage or abortion. This can prevent her from getting an infection, and will help her body heal faster. Women should:
- drink plenty of liquids and eat nutritious food.
- rest often.
- avoid heavy work for a week.
- bathe regularly, but should not douche or sit in a bath or tub of water until a few days after the bleeding stops.
- use clean cloths or pads to catch any blood, and change the pads often.
Also, the woman should not put anything inside her vagina, and should not have sexual intercourse for at least 2 weeks, and not until a few days after she stops bleeding.