For new mothers, postpartum care — the health care you receive after giving birth — is vital. Postpartum care begins in the maternity recovery room immediately after you give birth. Doctors, nurses, and lactation specialists help you start life with your new baby before sending you home.
Unfortunately, for many new mothers, postpartum care ends once they leave the hospital. Research shows that 40% of women skip their postpartum follow-up appointments with their ob-gyn. A postpartum visit can provide essential care as you recover from giving birth. It can help you adjust to the physical and lifestyle changes that accompany becoming a new mom. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls the postpartum period the “fourth trimester.” And it deserves as much attention as the first three trimesters.
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What to Expect During a Postpartum Visit
Postpartum care focuses on your physical, social, and psychological well-being. During a postpartum visit, your doctor will go over the following:
- Your mood and emotional well-being: Your doctor will give you a questionnaire to check you for anxiety and postpartum depression. You also might be asked about tobacco use and substance abuse.
- Your physical healing: Your doctor will make sure you’re healing well and answer your questions. You might discuss breast and belly changes, your uterus, incision healing, and potential infections. Your doctor will also assess issues related to your perineum — the area between your vagina and anus — including pain, constipation, hemorrhoids, and bladder or fecal leakage.
- Infant care and feeding: Your doctor will answer any questions or concerns you have about caring for your new baby.
- Your sleep health: New moms often experience sleep issues such as fatigue and/or insomnia. Your doctor can help you find ways to ease these problems.
- Your sexual health: If have difficulties with, or concerns about, sex after giving birth, you can discuss them with your doctor.
- Future family planning: You’ll go over your reproductive health, how to prevent future pregnancy complications, contraception, and future family planning.
- Chronic disease management: If you are breastfeeding and have a chronic health condition, your doctor will work with you to determine what medicines and doses are safe. If you had gestational diabetes, your doctor may track your glucose.
- Overall health check: Your doctor will review and update your vaccinations and conduct a general reproductive exam, including a pelvic exam and Pap test.
The Importance of the Postpartum Visit
Giving birth is a huge physical and emotional event. It’s common for new mothers to experience heavy bleeding, pain, exhaustion, and incontinence.
Postpartum care is crucial to make sure you’re healing after delivery and to help control any negative symptoms. The postpartum visit also provides an opportunity for your doctor to manage any chronic health conditions that could interfere with your baby’s health.
Your postpartum care also includes an essential evaluation of your mental health. About one in seven new moms develop postpartum depression, and about one in 10 experience postpartum anxiety. Finding this out early is key to getting the support and treatment you need.
Finally, your visit is an opportunity to talk to your doctor about family planning and effective contraception. This can help prevent a short interval pregnancy, defined as pregnancy occurring within six months after delivery — a known risk factor for preterm birth.
When Your Postpartum Visit Should Occur
How soon you see your ob-gyn after giving birth depends on your individual health profile. Here are timing guidelines on initial postpartum care from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:
- If you have a low risk of complications: If you’re unlikely to have postpartum complications, you should plan to see your ob-gyn within three weeks after delivery.
- If you have a high risk of complications: If you had gestational diabetes, a chronic health condition, a cesarean wound infection, or other postpartum complications, you should have your first postpartum visit one to three weeks after delivery.
- If you have high blood pressure: Because more than half of postpartum strokes happen within the first 10 days after delivery, women with high blood pressure should have their first postpartum visit three to 10 days after delivery. If you have severe hypertension, you should see your doctor within 72 hours after delivery.
After your initial visit, your doctor may suggest further postpartum care. You should have a comprehensive well-woman visit with your primary care doctor within four to 12 weeks after delivery.
To learn more about postpartum care and healing after delivery, visit UPMC-Magee Womens Hospital or call 1-866-696-2433 to make an appointment with a postpartum specialist.
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For Journals and Media sources:National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. Enterovirus D68. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
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About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long-renowned for its services to women and babies but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Our patient-first approach ensures you and your loved ones get the care you need. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and our NICU is one of the largest in the country. Our network of care – from imaging centers to hospital services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, giving you a chance to get the expert care you need close to home. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes UPMC Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.