As a new parent, your focus is on caring for your newborn. But your health and well-being are equally important. You need to heal from birth and the changes to your body during pregnancy.
Postpartum checkups are a vital part of this healing. Visiting your OB (obstetrician) after birth sets the foundation for good health after pregnancy. They’re also a chance to discuss birth control options.
Learn why and when you should visit your obstetrician after giving birth and what to expect at your postpartum checkups.
When Are Postpartum Checkups?
The postpartum or postnatal period begins after you deliver your baby. It lasts up to 12 weeks. It’s sometimes referred to as the “fourth trimester.”
During this time, your body recovers from pregnancy and delivery. Most people visit their OB at least once during the postnatal period. The typical after-birth checkup is usually around six weeks postpartum.
However, one visit may not be enough if questions, concerns, or health issues arise. Many experts now advise new parents to visit their doctor several times postpartum.
Doctors suggest care for postpartum checkups as follows:
- A check-in with your doctor within three weeks after giving birth. You may visit sooner if you have high blood pressure. That allows you to ask questions about your healing. Your care team can also address any concerns.
- Receive ongoing care as needed during the 12-week postpartum period. You and your doctor can plan your visits based on your needs. If you had health issues during pregnancy, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, your doctor might advise more frequent visits.
- Have a complete checkup around six weeks postpartum but no later than 12 weeks after giving birth.
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What Happens at a Postpartum Health Check?
Becoming a parent is a hectic full-time job. Making time for yourself is hard. But it’s vital to care for your health before you can care for your baby.
During your checkup, your OB will:
- Check your weight and blood pressure.
- Do a pelvic exam to ensure your reproductive organs are healthy and healing.
- Examine your incision if you had a c-section.
- Follow up on any health issues, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Screen you for mental health concerns, like postpartum depression and anxiety.
- Update your medicines or any vaccines if needed.
Your doctor can also advise you on:
- How to nourish your body and your baby if you’re breastfeeding.
- How to make breastfeeding more successful.
- How to strengthen or recommendations to rehabilitate your pelvic floor muscles to reduce bladder leakage, bowel incontinence, or sexual pain.
- Measures to relieve hemorrhoid pain.
- Tips for getting sleep while caring for your newborn.
Make sure you talk to your doctor about any symptoms or concerns. Many body changes or discomforts are normal, but these are signs of an infection or something more serious:
- A fever higher than 100.4ºF.
- Bleeding that’s heavier than your regular periods.
- Extreme sadness or depression that’s ongoing.
- Pain, redness, or discharge around your incision site.
- Red streaks or painful lumps in your breasts.
- Severe headaches or vision changes.
- Severe pain in your lower abdomen.
- Swelling or tenderness in your legs, around your calves.
Each person’s postpartum health journey is unique. You should never feel uncomfortable asking questions. Checking in with your doctor helps birthing parents feel more cared for and helps them stay on top of their health.
Emotional Health After Birth
The baby blues are more common than you might think. Many people have mood swings, feel down or irritable, or have trouble sleeping after giving birth. Changes in your hormones cause these feelings.
The baby blues usually go away within two weeks. Sometimes, the mood changes last longer, or they are more severe. These may be a sign of postpartum depression (PPD).
PPD can make it hard to care for yourself or your baby. You might also have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. Your doctor will screen you for PPD during your postnatal visits.
If you are struggling with your mental health, please let them know. There are medicines, talk therapy options, and support groups to help you through this hard phase.
Birth Control and Family Planning
Your postpartum visit is also a time to discuss birth control and family planning. Even if you want more kids, this is vital in postpartum healing.
Most doctors suggest waiting 12 to 18 months before trying to get pregnant again. That allows time for your body to heal, recover, and build up nutrient stores to support another pregnancy. Too little time between pregnancies raises your risk of having a premature baby or other health issues.
And if you don’t want more kids, birth control is vital. It’s hard to know when you’ll start ovulating again after pregnancy. Breastfeeding is not an effective birth control method, so review your options with your doctor.
They might suggest:
- A birth control implant. Your doctor inserts it into the skin of your upper arm.
- A copper or hormonal IUD. Your doctor can insert it during your pelvic exam.
- Barrier methods, like a condom, cervical cap, or diaphragm. You insert or apply these during sex to block the entry of sperm into your vagina.
- Birth control pills, a vaginal ring, or a patch containing estrogen and progestin. These methods carry a risk of blood clots if used too soon after pregnancy. They might also affect your milk supply, so your doctor may avoid these during the early postpartum months and recommend progestin-only pills.
- Birth control pills with progestin-only. You can start these right after birth.
- Birth control shots. You can start shots right away. You need to get another shot every three months.
- Permanent contraception (having your tubes tied or a vasectomy). These are an option if you and your partner are sure you don’t want more kids.
Your Postpartum Checkup After Pregnancy Complications or Loss
Pregnancy complications can raise your risk of other health issues later in life. People who develop preeclampsia are at risk for long-term high blood pressure and heart and kidney problems. Having gestational diabetes raises your risk of type 2 diabetes later in life.
It’s crucial to monitor your health at your postnatal checkups and in the future to prevent serious health problems. Your doctor can suggest diet, lifestyle strategies, and medicines to keep you healthy.
If you experienced a pregnancy loss or serious health problems with your baby, you should also discuss these with your doctor. They can run tests or refer you for genetic testing if you want to try for another pregnancy. Having more knowledge can prepare you for the future.
New parents have a lot on their plate, and taking time for yourself is hard. But staying in touch with your OB after delivery is vital, even via telehealth. Don’t skip your postpartum health check visit; your health and your baby’s well-being depend on it.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. What to Expect at a Postpartum Checkup — and Why the Visit Matters. LINK
March of Dimes. Warning Signs to Look For After Having a Baby. LINK
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Postpartum Birth Control. LINK
StatPearls [Internet]. Postpartum Care of the New Mother. LINK
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