The importance of the postpartum checkup

KEY POINTS

  • A postpartum checkup is a medical checkup you get after having a baby to make sure you’re recovering well from labor and birth. 

  • Postpartum care is important because new moms are at risk of serious and sometimes life-threatening health complications.

  • Make a postpartum care plan with your provider during pregnancy and talk to your provider about your postpartum care team.  

  • Get a complete postpartum checkup no later than 12 weeks after giving birth.  

  • If you had pregnancy complications or you have a chronic health condition, you may need extra postpartum checkups. 

What is a postpartum checkup and why is it important? 

A postpartum checkup is a medical checkup after having a baby to make sure you’re recovering well from labor and birth. Go to your postpartum checkups, even if you’re feeling fine. Postpartum care is important because new moms are at risk of serious and sometimes life-threatening health complications in the days and weeks after giving birth. Too many new moms have or even die from health problems that may be prevented by getting postpartum care.   

Postpartum checkups are important for any new mom. They’re especially important for moms who have a loss, including: 

When these things happen, your postpartum checkups may help your health care provider or a genetic counselor learn more and see if you may be at risk in another pregnancy.  

What are the guidelines for postpartum care?  

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (also called ACOG) says that postpartum care should be an ongoing process.  ACOG recommends that all women: 

  • Have contact with their health care provider within 3 weeks of giving birth
  • Get ongoing medical care during the postpartum period, as needed
  • Have a complete postpartum checkup no later than 12 weeks after giving birth

Many of the discomforts and body changes women have in the weeks after giving birth are normal. But sometimes they’re warning signs or symptoms of a health problem that a provider can identify and your provider can help prevent serious medical problems.  

What is a postpartum care plan? 

A postpartum care plan helps you prepare for your medical care after giving birth. Make it during one of your prenatal care checkups.  Talk to your provider before you give birth about: 

  • Contact information for your health care provider.  
  • Your postpartum checkups schedule.  Talk with your provider about what timing is right for you. Find out if your health insurance plan covers all your checkups.  
  • Your reproductive life plan, including birth control.  For most, it's best to wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. Talk to your provider about birth control to have more time between pregnancies.  
  • Health conditions or pregnancy complications that need treatment after you have your baby.  Your provider may schedule extra checkups or refer you to other providers who specialize in certain conditions. 
  • Feeding your baby. If you are planning breastfeed your baby your provider can help you find a lactation consultant to help with breastfeeding.  
  • Common physical and emotional changes after pregnancy.  
  • Postpartum depression (also called PPD) and other mental health conditions after pregnancy. Postpartum depression is a kind of depression that some women get after having a baby. Talk to your provider about looking out for signs and symptoms of PPD. 

What happens at a postpartum checkup? 

At your postpartum checkup, your provider makes sure you’re recovering well after giving birth and adjusting to life as a mom. Here’s what to expect: 

Physical exam 

  • Your provider checks your blood pressure, weight, breasts and belly. If you had a cesarean birth (also called c-section), your provider may want to see you about 2 weeks after you give birth so she can check on how your c-section incision (cut) is healing.  
  • You get a pelvic exam. Your provider checks your vagina, uterus and cervix and sees if any cuts or tears have healed. Your provider can tell you when it’s safe to have sex again. 
  • Your provider checks on any health conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, you had during pregnancy.   
  • Your provider makes sure your vaccinations are up to date, including vaccinations for flu and pertussis.  

Birth control. If you didn’t talk about birth control with your provider before you had your baby, talk about options and at your postpartum visit. Ask about using an intrauterine device or implant to help keep you from getting pregnant again too soon. 

Problems you had during pregnancy, labor and birth that may affect your health after pregnancy. This is the time to talk about how you may be able to prevent problems in future pregnancies, even if you’re not thinking about having another baby now. Also, if you had a premature birth, gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension (high blood pressure) or a condition called preeclampsia, you may be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (also called heart disease) later in life.  

Feelings about being a new mom. Tell your provider if you feel tired and stressed in the weeks after birth. You may have questions about breastfeeding and caring for your baby. Tell your provider if you have feelings of sadness or worry that last for a long time.   

What is a postpartum care team? 

Members of your postpartum care team can include: 

Your prenatal care provider. This is the provider who takes care of you during pregnancy, labor and birth.  

Health care providers who treat women with pregnancy complications or chronic health conditions.  Chronic health conditions include: 

Your baby’s health care provider.  Your baby’s provider may be: 

  • A pediatrician. This is a doctor who has training to take care of babies and children. 
  • A family practice doctor (also called a family physician). This is a doctor who takes care of every member of the family.  
  • A neonatologist. This is a doctor who takes care of sick newborns, including premature babies and babies with birth defects. 
  • Pediatric nurse practitioner (also called PNP). This is a registered nurse who has advanced training to take care of babies and children. 
  • Family nurse practitioner (also called FNP). This is a registered nurse with advanced training to take care of every member of your family. 

Breastfeeding help. You and your baby may need time and practice to get comfortable breastfeeding. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You can get breastfeeding help from:   

Case manager or care coordinator. This is a nurse, social worker or other trained professional who works to make sure you and your baby get the care, resources and services you need.  

Home visitor. This is a nurse, social worker or other trained professional who makes regular visits to your home to help you learn how to care for your baby and understand your baby’s developmental milestones. The Nurse-Family Partnership and Healthy Start are examples of community health programs that offer free home-visiting services.  

Family and friends. Your family and friends can help you care for your baby or older children. Family and friends can also keep an eye out for warning signs of health problems including signs and symptoms of postpartum depression or other mental health conditions. 

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