Sepsis during and after pregnancy - Sepsis

Maternal sepsis is the name for sepsis that develops during pregnancy or up to 6 weeks (42 days) after:

  • the birth
  • a miscarriage
  • an abortion

Maternal sepsis is rare, but it can be life threatening.

If you have an infection

If you have an infection, know the signs of sepsis. It’s important to get treatment early if you need it.

You can only develop sepsis if you have an infection.

Signs of sepsis during and after pregnancy

Immediate action required: Call 999 or 112, or go to ED if:

you or someone you look after have any of these signs of sepsis:

  • acting confused, slurring their speech, not making sense or not their usual self
  • difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing very fast
  • feel pounding in their chest
  • their hands or feet feel cold, clammy and pale
  • feels dizzy, faint or loses consciousness (passes out)
  • not peeing as much as normal – for example, not peeing for a day
  • a rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it, in the same way you check for meningitis
  • severe muscle pain
  • have severe leg pain or difficulty standing
  • are extremely unwell or feel like there's something seriously wrong
  • are taking antibiotics for an infection and are not getting any better

You may not have all these symptoms. Even if you have just one, get urgent medical help.

Do not worry if you're not sure if it's sepsis – it's still best to get urgent help.

Be aware if you have an infection

You may be more at risk of becoming very unwell due to an infection when you are pregnant. This is because your immune system changes during pregnancy.

Complications from viral infections, such as the flu or COVID-19, can sometimes be serious when you are pregnant.

Urgent advice: Contact your GP, midwife or doctor if:

you are pregnant or have recently been pregnant and:

Risk factors during and after pregnancy

Most pregnant women are young and healthy. This helps protect them from sepsis. But there are some things which increase the risk of sepsis.

You may be at extra risk of sepsis if you are pregnant and:

Common infections during and after pregnancy

Infections common during and after pregnancy include:

Breast infection

Signs of a breast infection include:

  • pain when you touch your breast
  • your breast feels warm
  • swelling or redness on your breast
  • feeling generally unwell and have pain or a burning sensation

Mastitis is a common breast infection during breastfeeding

Infection after stitches or a caesarean section

Signs of infection after a caesarean section or stitching include:

  • wound feels hot or painful
  • swelling or redness around the wound
  • pus coming from the wound
  • feeling unwell and have signs of infection
Womb infection

Signs of a womb infection include:

  • tummy or lower tummy pain not helped by painkillers
  • smelly blood loss
  • more heavy bleeding after the delivery even though it had previously eased off
  • feeling unwell and have signs of infection

Chorioamnionitis is a bacterial infection that can develop in the womb.

Genital tract infection

Symptoms of a genital tract infection include:

  • inflammation or irritation in or around your vagina (birth canal)
  • vaginal discharge
  • irritation around the labia
Pelvic infection

Symptoms of a pelvic infection include:

  • pain in your lower tummy or lower back
  • vaginal discharge
  • a temperature and feel unwell

Other types of infection commonly associated with sepsis

How to help prevent infection and sepsis

It's not always possible to prevent maternal sepsis.

There are things you can do to help prevent infections that can lead to sepsis.

Do

  • wash your hands regularly and keep yourself clean

  • keep your home clean, particularly your bathrooms

  • change sanitary pads regularly

  • keep up to date with vaccines needed during pregnancy

  • clean and care for any wounds

  • be aware if you are in close contact with someone who has strep throat (group A strep) - if you feel unwell, contact your GP, doctor or midwife urgently

Don't

  • do not ignore symptoms of sepsis

  • do not delay getting medical help if you are feeling unwell

  • do not touch your face, nose and eyes unless your hands have been washed properly

Page last reviewed: 16 September 2022
Next review due: 16 September 2025