Apostpartum hemorrhage (PPH) is frequently defined as a blood loss of greater than 500 mL after giving birth vaginally or a blood loss of greater than 1000 mL after a cesarean section. Because many women lose at least 500 mL of blood during childbirth and do not experience any symptoms, a more accurate way to define PPH is losing 1% or more of the body weight after delivering a baby (1 mL of blood weighs 1 g). For example, a patient weighing 175 lb, or 80 kg, would need to lose 800 mL of blood to be classified as having a PPH. Greater than a 10% decrease in the prenatal hematocrit is another means used to suggest that PPH has occurred; this value needs to be used cautiously because hematocrit is affected by factors other than blood loss, such as dehydration. It is estimated that 2% to 4% of all deliveries end in PPH, and it is a major contributor to maternal morbidity and mortality.
PPH is classified as either an early hemorrhage (occurring during the first 24 hours after delivery) or a late hemorrhage (occurring more than 24 hours after delivery). With the current trend in obstetric practice of sending postpartum patients home in 48 hours or less after delivery, the significance of PPH, particularly late hemorrhage, is profound. Often, the severity of the hemorrhage depends on the expediency with which it is diagnosed and treated; if the patient hemorrhages at home, her risk increases significantly.
There are several causes of PPH, particularly uterine atony, trauma, and retained placental fragments. Several predisposing factors related to these causes can be found in Box 2. The number one cause of early PPH is uterine atony, a condition in which the uterus does not adequately contract, allowing increased blood loss from the placental site of implantation. After the placenta is delivered, the uterus needs to contract to seal off the iliac arteries. If the uterus is contracted, the placental site is smaller, causing less bleeding.
Lacerations of the perineum, vagina, and cervix can occur during a vaginal birth. Lacerations of the cervix occur with rapid dilation or with pushing before complete dilation. During the second stage of labor, vaginal, perineal, and periurethral tears occur. Failure to repair these lacerations adequately can result in a slow, steady trickle of blood.
The most common cause of late PPH is retained placental fragments. If parts of the placenta remain in the uterus after delivery, small clots form around the retained parts, sealing off the bleeding. After a while the clots slough, and heavy bleeding occurs. Subinvolution (delayed involution) can also be a causative factor in a late PPH.
Nursing care plan assessment and physical examination
Because PPH can be repeated in subsequent pregnancies, always ask a multipara if she had a previous PPH. Inquire about a family history of coagulation disorders or excessive bleeding with surgical procedures or menses. Ask if the patient has perineal pain. Although some discomfort is expected after a vaginal delivery, severe pain or pressure is uncommon and often indicates a hematoma.
Observe the amount and characteristics of blood loss; sometimes there is a pooling of blood and the passage of large clots. Usually, complete saturation of one perineal pad within 15 minutes or saturation of two or more pads in 1 hour suggests hemorrhage. A bimanual exam may be done to determine tone, uterine enlargement, or presence of pelvic hematomas. Palpate the fundus, noting if it is firm or boggy, if it is midline or deviated laterally, and if it is above or below the umbilicus. Normally, after delivery, the fundus is firm, midline, and at the level of the umbilicus. A fundus above the umbilicus and deviated laterally may indicate a full bladder. A boggy uterus is indicative of uterine atony and, if it is not corrected, results in a PPH. If the fundus is firm, midline, and at or below the umbilicus and if there is steady, bright red bleeding, further assessment for trauma is necessary. Inspect the perineum carefully to discern any unrepaired lacerations or bleeding from a repaired episiotomy. If a hematoma is suspected, the patient is placed in lithotomy position, and the vagina and perineal area are carefully inspected. A bulging and discoloration of the skin is noted if a hematoma is present. Assess the patient’s vital signs. A temperature above 100.4°F may indicate uterine infection, which decreases the myometrium’s ability to contract and makes the patient more susceptible to PPH. Note any foul vaginal odor that may accompany the fever with infection. Elevated heart rate, delayed capillary refill, decreased blood pressure, and increased respiratory rate may be noted if PPH is occurring. Assess the patient’s color and skin temperature; pallor and cool, clammy skin also indicate hypovolemic shock.
PPH is a traumatic experience because medical complications are unexpected during what is anticipated as a happy time. Assess the anxiety level of the patient; the patient going into hypovolemic shock is highly anxious and then may lose consciousness. The significant others experience a high level of anxiety as well and need a great deal of support.
Nursing care plan primary nursing diagnosis: Fluid volume deficit related to blood loss.
Nursing care plan intervention and treatment plan
The goal of treatment is to correct the cause and replace the fluid loss. Patients should have nothing by mouth until hemostasis is established. Expedient diagnosis and treatment of the cause reduce the likelihood of a blood transfusion. Treatment for uterine atony involves performing frequent fundal massage, sometimes bimanual massage (by the medical clinician only), and pharmacologic therapy. Fluid replacement with normal saline solution, lactated Ringer’s injection, volume expanders, or whole blood may be necessary. Multiple venous access sites, 100% oxygen, and a Foley catheter are often needed. If uterine atony is not corrected quickly, a lifesaving hysterectomy is indicated.
Monitor the hematocrit and hemoglobin to determine the success of fluid replacement and the patient’s intake and output. If an infection is the cause of the atony, the physician prescribes antibiotics. PPH caused by trauma requires surgical repair with aseptic technique. Hematomas may absorb on their own; however, if they are large, an incision, evacuation of clots, and ligation of the bleeding vessel are necessary. Administer analgesics for perineal pain. If retained fragments are suspected at the time of delivery, the uterine cavity should be explored. If manual removal or expression of clots/placental fragments is unsuccessful, cervical dilation and curettage is indicated to remove retained fragments.
Be alert for PPH in any postpartum patient, especially those who have any of the predisposing factors. It is often the nurse who discovers the hemorrhage. For the first 24 hours postpartum, perform frequent fundal checks. If the fundus is boggy, massage until it feels firm; it should feel like a large, hard grapefruit. When massaging the fundus, keep one hand above the symphysis pubis to support the lower uterine segment, while gently but firmly rubbing the fundus, which may lose its tone when the massage is stopped. Explain that cramping or feeling like “labor is starting again” is expected with liberal administration of the oxytocic drugs used to manage the bleeding. Monitor for hypertension if oxytocics and prostaglandins are used. Encourage the patient to void; a full bladder interferes with contractions and normal uterine involution. If the patient is unable to void on her own, a straight catheterization is necessary.
Monitor vaginal bleeding; the lochia is usually dark red and should not saturate more than one perineal pad every 2 to 3 hours. Notify the physician if the bleeding is steady and bright red in the presence of a normal firm fundus; this usually indicates a laceration. Ice packs and sitz baths may relieve perineal discomfort. The patient is usually on complete bedrest. Rooming in with the infant may be difficult; provide for safe care for the infant while it is in the mother’s room. Assist the patient and significant others as much as possible with newborn care to facilitate quality time between the mother and her newborn. Assist the patient with ambulation the first few times out of bed; syncope is common after a large blood loss. Ensure adequate rest periods.
Nursing care plan discharge and home health care guidelines
Teach the patient how to check her own fundus and do a fundal massage; this is especially important for patients at risk who are discharged early from the hospital. Advise the patient to contact the physician for the following: a boggy uterus that does not become firm with massage, excessive bright red or dark red bleeding, many large clots, fever above 100.4°F, persistent or severe perineal pain or pressure.If iron supplements are provided, teach the patient to take the drug with orange juice and expect some constipation and dark-colored stools. If oxytocics are ordered, emphasize the importance of taking them around the clock as prescribed. If antibiotics are ordered, teach the patient to finish the prescription, even though the symptoms may have