Every mom knows that the six weeks between giving birth and your first postpartum visit with your OB-GYN can seem like forever — and it can be a little scary if you’re not prepared for all of the physical and emotional changes women often experience after childbirth. Because of the time between delivery and the first postpartum checkup, many new moms aren’t getting the care they need.
Now, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued some radical new guidelines for what it believes is optimal postpartum health care.
“In addition to being a time of joy and excitement, this ‘fourth trimester’ can present considerable challenges for women,” the introduction to the new guidelines reads.
Among the challenges new moms face are pain, stress, lack of sleep, breastfeeding difficulties, new or worsening mental health disorders and lack of sexual desire. Additionally, chronic health issues may worsen or not be properly treated during the postpartum period.
In a dramatic change from long-established previous guidelines, the ACOG is now recommending new mothers follow up with their OB-GYN at the three-week mark, rather than waiting until six weeks.
According to the new guidelines: “All women should ideally have contact with a maternal care provider within the first 3 weeks postpartum. This initial assessment should be followed up with ongoing care as needed, concluding with a comprehensive postpartum visit no later than 12 weeks after birth.”
They recommend the comprehensive twelve-week checkup include a full assessment of physical, social and psychological well-being. Among the topics that should be covered during the comprehensive assessment are infant care and feeding, emotional well-being and physical recovery, chronic disease management, sleep and fatigue issues, sexuality and birth control.
In an effort to redefine postpartum care, the new guidelines suggest it should be “an ongoing process, rather than a single encounter, with services and support tailored to each woman’s individual needs.”
Adopting a philosophy of ongoing postpartum care is a change that will take time to implement — every mom knows how hard it is to make time for herself — but it will make a huge difference in the health and well-being of new moms and their babies.
“The changes are in response to the fact that maternal mortality is rising in the U.S., and women are more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes after the day of delivery than during pregnancy or birth,” Alison Stuebe, M.D., MSc, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and co-author of the ACOG opinion, told Parents.com. “We also know that problems like postpartum depression and breastfeeding difficulties are more likely to get better if mothers get support in the first few weeks after birth, rather than muddling through until six weeks postpartum.”
These guidelines are good news for all new mothers, especially as the ACOG reports that as many as 40 percent of women do not have a postpartum visit. Hopefully, by shifting the recommendations from a single six-week visit to three- and twelve-week assessments, as well as ongoing contact in the interim, more women will receive the care they need, when they need it.