Traditionally the biggest risk to pregnant women was that of infection in the early days after delivery. 150 yrs ago 1 in 10 women would die from Childbed Fever from an infection often acquired from the doctor or other infected women. In modern practice, serious infections afterwards are very unusual. A better understanding of the way bacteria cross over, improved hygiene methods, scrupulous hand washing and sterility have caused a dramatic reduction in infection rates. Most units screen patients for MRSA and other serious bacteria. The use of antibiotics is now routine for operative deliveries.
The most serious infection is that of intra-uterine infection, Endometritis, this is more common after an operative delivery or if there are retained products of conception left inside the uterus. It may occur through poor hygiene and is potentially quite contagious. The symptoms include, a high fever and lots of abdominal pain and increased smelly blood stained lochia (vaginal discharge after giving birth) and feeling unwell. If you have an inter-uterine infection you will need to be admitted to hospital, isolated, given intravenous antibiotics and general resuscitation. Most women will make a good recovery with no effect on the baby.
Other sources of infection in early postnatal period are infection in perineum (see section on Perineum), in the abdominal wound, urinary infections and breast infections such as mastitis.
Symptoms you should look out for are swelling, redness, warmth, increasing pain or discharge at the site of any wound or in your breasts. If you develop a fever or have difficulty passing urine then you should inform your midwife or doctor quickly as an untreated infection can quickly become serious. Fortunately these infections are not contagious and respond to the usual treatments of antibiotics very quickly. You should seek the advice of your midwife or doctors if you think you have any form of infection.