Definition & Overview

The postpartum period, which is usually the first six weeks after delivery, is known to be a critical stage in the mother’s physical and mental health. After nine months of carrying the baby inside her belly and undergoing physical and mental changes, and then going through the stress of delivery, returning to a non-pregnant state can be demanding. There’s also the additional pressure of looking after the newly born child.

Women are prone to a variety of disorders during this period, such as postpartum depression and infections, especially if they required a vaginal incision or a C-section to help them deliver the baby. Therefore, doctors recommend that the mother undergo a postpartum visit or consultation 4-6 weeks after delivery.

The purpose of the consultation is to assess the mother’s physical and mental condition to see how she is coping with the situation. Doctors will also help the mother establish a weight loss goal and advise her on how to achieve an ideal weight through proper nutrition and exercise.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

It’s imperative that a woman who has recently given birth undergo a postpartum visit, even when she feels that she is doing fine and is not displaying any particular signs of mental fatigue or depression. In some cases, a woman may not display any visible symptoms or may deny having any symptoms at all. If her condition is not identified, there’s a possibility of it worsening and becoming more difficult to treat later on.

A postpartum visit can last anywhere between 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the findings of the doctor. If the doctor believes the mother will require further diagnosis or treatment, she will likely be asked to return for a follow-up consultation or be referred to a specialist.

How Does the Procedure Work?

Most postpartum visits begin with a short interview. The doctor will ask a few questions, such as how the mother is doing and if she is feeling any symptoms. The purpose of the interview is not only to identify any possible problems with the mother’s physical health but also to gauge her mental state. Doctors will be able to identify any mental fatigue and prescribe medications or provide advice on how she can deal with her condition without the use of any medicines.

The doctor will then perform a physical exam. If the mother underwent an episiotomy during delivery, the incision will be checked to make sure that it is healing properly. Patients who delivered via C-section would normally undergo a medical checkup two weeks after delivery, but the doctor will also inspect the wound during a postpartum visit.

The physical exam will also include a pelvic exam to ensure that the uterus, cervix, and ovaries are returning to the pre-pregnancy state normally. The doctor will check for any signs of infections or request that the mother undergo a pap smear if signs of abnormalities are present.

Doctors will also usually perform a breast exam during the postpartum visit. The breasts undergo a series of changes during pregnancy and after delivery. If the doctor discovers any abnormal changes, further tests will be requested so that the condition can be treated as early as possible.

The mother’s mental health is just as important as her physical health, which is why the doctor will check for any signs of depression. If the doctor feels that the mother could be displaying signs of depression, she will likely need to be referred to specialists in postpartum depression or be asked to obtain the services of postpartum helpers, such as baby nurses. In some cases, the mother may simply be feeling overwhelmed by the situation and a little help with the baby is all she needs.

If the doctor does not discover any physical or mental abnormalities during the postpartum visit, the mother will be given the all-clear sign to return to normal daily activities, which include exercises and sexual activities.

Possible Complications and Risks

A postpartum visit usually does not present any complications or risks, unless the doctor discovers any physical or mental abnormalities that will require further diagnosis and treatment. In this case, the complications and risks will be related to the actual exam or treatment regimen.

It’s important to inform the doctor of any problems that you may be experiencing during the postpartum visit, including problems at home that may be causing additional physical, mental, or emotional stress. Any problem, no matter how small it may appear, can affect a mother’s state of mind during the postpartum period. The doctor may be able to help with the problem or refer you to specialists who will be able to provide sound advice on how to deal with your situation.

The most common postpartum problems that women experience during this period are:

  • Infections, to include incision and kidney infections
  • Swollen breasts
  • Clogged ducts
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Hair loss
  • Stretch marks
  • Incontinence
  • Discomfort during sex
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Postpartum hemorrhage resulting in excessive bleeding
    If you experience any of the above problems, make sure that you inform your doctor during the postpartum visit. However, if the condition is worsening and is affecting your daily activities, then seek immediate medical attention.

You should also seek help if you begin to display signs of depression, which include intense feelings of sadness or if you’re having thoughts of suicide. Other signs of depression include no longer caring about your daily activities, friends, or responsibilities. You should seek immediate help if you have feelings of animosity towards the baby or other family members.

References:

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Screening for depression during and after pregnancy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 453. Washington, DC: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2008, reaffirmed 2009). Use of psychiatric medications during pregnancy and lactation. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 92. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 111(4): 1001-1020.

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