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Mothers: Don't Undervalue Postpartum Medical Appointments

by Erin Eidsness

February 2022

Most Devils Lake community members understand the benefits of medical visits during pregnancy. However, mothers' health and medical check-ups are under-appreciated and underused after the baby arrives. In the six weeks after baby comes, a period of time referred to as the postpartum period, medical providers point to three important reasons for mothers to get routine check-ups:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Discussions around family planning

First, it's important to check on the mother's physical health in the weeks following delivery. Common symptoms like constipation, fatigue, pain with urination, or breast pain with feeding might seem like minor inconveniences to a busy mother, but still distract her enough to decrease the attention she gives her new baby. At postpartum appointments, providers will also check for early signs of more severe conditions like thyroid hormone problems, infections, or high blood pressure problems, called eclampsia, that can be life-threatening.

A second reason for postpartum check-ups is to assess for mental health conditions like “baby blues.” Baby blues includes symptoms of mood swings, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, thoughts of being a failure as a mother or feeling unable to meet baby's needs. These feelings can be normal because life changes so much with a new baby in the house. Treatment for baby blues includes reassurance. However, treatment also includes close monitoring for baby blues that might progress to postpartum depression, or PPD.

When the feelings of baby blues last longer than two weeks or intensify, PPD could be happening. Usually triggered by hormone changes and other issues, new moms should understand that prevention for the condition is out of their control. If PPD is not given the attention it's due, it can affect a mother's ability to bond with her baby, even causing decreased feeding time and a baby that goes hungry. Experts know it can also result in strained family relationships with a significant other. In severe cases, it can even lead to a mom's suicide or death of the infant.

Many new mothers are susceptible to developing PPD. New moms who might be at increased risk are those already diagnosed with anxiety or depression, younger mothers, or mothers with a poor social support system. Moms who deliver during winter months can also be at risk since moods can be more effected by the shorter days and less sunlight. Treatment sometimes includes antidepressants combined with counseling if needed.

Because the postpartum period is a very demanding time in a mother's life, some mothers begin to think about their family's size. This makes family planning discussions the third reason to schedule a postpartum visit. Although the phrase “family planning” means something different to every mother, these postpartum visits provide information to help women understand how their body's postpartum changes influence the ability to get pregnant. For example, providers will remind new moms that they can get pregnant very shortly after delivery, sometimes within just a few weeks. In fact, the majority of women are able to get pregnant again within the first two months after delivery. Because breastfeeding and breastfeeding schedules cause complex hormone changes in a woman's body, providers will also remind new moms that breastfeeding is not a reliable form of birth control. Additionally, your provider can discuss how other family planning options, like birth control methods, are or are not compatible with breastfeeding. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology's Postpartum Birth Control page is a great resource for mothers wondering about their birth control options after delivery.

New mothers might feel the urge to skip postpartum check-ups due to their busy life. However, instead of skipping them, here are some tips to make planning a checkup a little bit easier to put on the calendar: Schedule the first visit before leaving the hospital and ask that the new baby's check-up happens at the same visit. As questions pop up, write them on a list to take to the appointment.

The postpartum period is a hectic time for mothers and a checkup for themselves is the last thing they might want to schedule. However, it's important for moms and their Devils Lake community support system to remember these visits are meant to keep both moms and new babies healthy.

This article also appeared in the February 8, 2022 issue of the Devils Lake Journal.

About the Author

Erin EidnessErin Eidsness is a third-year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. She was selected as the Devils Lake participant for the school's ROME program, or Rural Opportunities in Medical Education. Because the program includes teaching student doctors about the importance of how rural newspapers can deliver health information, she has written this column for her ROME community. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.