In the birth industry, puerperium is a term that is used to describe the period of time following the birth of a baby. This period of adjustment generally lasts between four and six weeks and ends with the return of normal menstruation. During this time, the mother’s reproductive organs return to their pre-pregnancy state, triggered by a sudden drop in estrogen and progesterone levels due to the absence of the placenta.
During puerperium, new mothers typically experience a number of physical and emotional changes. These include:
- lactation, which can prolong puerperium because of the effects of lactation on hormonal balance;
- involution where the uterus shrinks back to its normal size;
- reestablishment of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus;
- fatigue due to sleep loss;
- mood swings and in some cases postpartum depression
In some cases, especially with early rupture of membranes and unhygienic birthing conditions, puerperal sepsis can also be a problem that a mother has to deal with.
Puerperium is occasionally used to describe the post-birth period in general, regardless of whether or not a baby has been born. This can be confusing because puerperium technically refers to the first six weeks after the birth of a baby. It’s important to be aware of this distinction when using the term outside of the birth industry
Puerperium is also often confused with the term Postpartum, which is used to describe the same period of time but refers more generally to the psychological changes that a woman experiences after giving birth.
Finally, puerperium can also be confused with the term Postnatal, which refers to the period of time that starts immediately after childbirth and lasts until around six weeks after the birth. This term is generally used in medical contexts to refer to the physical changes that a woman experiences during this time.
This image shows how often the term ‘Puerperium’ is used in relation to other, similar birth terms:
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