Even after birth the uterus must continue contracting to get back to its original size. Uterine contractions also help to pinch off the blood vessels in the uterine lining to control postpartum bleeding. For a few hours after delivery, these contractions may be regular and intense. They will decrease in frequency and intensity over the next few weeks. Afterpains may resemble menstrual cramps or the Braxton-Hicks contractions you experienced in the final few months of pregnancy. They intensify during breastfeeding, since sucking stimulates the release of oxytocin. This hormone is nature’s way of contracting the uterus and stopping bleeding. Birth attendants often suggest mothers encourage their baby to suck right after delivery to help the uterus contract.
Afterpains are not usually very intense following a first delivery, but they will be quite noticeable after subsequent births. To cope with the discomfort, use whatever relaxation techniques worked for you during labor. This will help make breastfeeding more comfortable.