It has been weeks since your newest family member arrived, and you’ve been so busy feeding, burping, changing diapers, doing laundry and falling in love with your newborn that you can hardly believe it’s already time for his one-month “well-baby” visit. While instinct may be signaling you to devote your every thought to your tiny offspring, there’s someone else who needs attention right now, too—you. It’s time for your postpartum checkup.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend a postpartum checkup four to six weeks after delivery for women who have had an uncomplicated pregnancy and a normal vaginal or cesarean delivery. By this time, some significant developments should have taken place in your body’s year-long transformation back to its pre-pregnancy state. Your uterus should be pre-pregnancy size once again and any vaginal tears and episiotomy or C-section incisions should be healed.
What to Expect at Your Postpartum Checkup
At this visit, your obstetrician will check the status of these postpartum milestones and will assess your overall physical and mental health. Expect abdominal, pelvic and breast exams and discussion about your breastfeeding status. Your weight and height will be measured and your pre- and post-pregnancy body mass index may be compared. Your doctor may order lab work to check for nutritional deficiencies and any signs of health problems.
Your postpartum checkup is a valuable opportunity to glean advice on important areas of concern during this phase. According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals’ Postpartum Counseling: A Quick Reference Guide for Clinicians, your obstetrician should be prepared to advise and assess you on the following:
Nutrition, exercise and weight loss Get requirements for your specific needs and suggestions for how you can fulfill them.
Infant care Ask for input on challenges you’ve had with bathing, diapering and sleep. Inquire about infant sleep safety and foods, medicines and other substances that could cause harm to your baby.
Breastfeeding and breast health Address questions about nursing, pumping and your milk supply. If you’re experiencing breast pain, your doctor can check for mastitis, inflammation caused by an infected duct. She can also provide instruction and remedies for the prevention and treatment of painful nipples.
Mental health and relationships To rule out postpartum depression and other psychological disorders linked with hormonal changes, your obstetrician will ask about your mood, your relationship with your partner, and your plans to return to work. She can give advice about helping other children in your family adjust to their new sibling. She may administer screening tests and can offer professional resources.
Sex and contraception By four to six weeks after childbirth, you’ve probably healed enough to be having sex again. But, postpartum hormones may decrease libido as well as vaginal lubrication, which can make sex uncomfortable. Your physician can suggest remedies and review contraception options appropriate for your current status. Ideally, you’ll have planned your early postpartum contraception before delivery, since certain methods should not be used during the first six weeks after childbirth and while breastfeeding.
How to Prepare For Your Postpartum Checkup
Discuss your personal goals for birth control and future children with your partner before your scheduled postpartum checkup. Make a list of any symptoms or concerns you’ll ask about and pack paper and a pen for taking notes on your doctor’s responses. Your list may include some of these common postpartum symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Vaginal, perineal or hemorrhoidal discomfort
- Breast pain
- Painful urination
- Rectal or urinary incontinence
- Painful intercourse
- Ejection of breast milk during orgasm
- Varicose veins
By Katherine M. Tomlinson