Your Postpartum Doctor Appointment

Should You Wait Six Weeks? When to See the Doctor and Why

Young doctor holding clipboard while looking at patient. Waist up portrait of smiling gynecologist standing with red-haired woman in medical office.

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Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy and childbirth. So, after your baby is born, your body needs time to heal. As you recover, it’s important to make an appointment to see your OB-GYN for postpartum care. Here’s what you need to know about the postpartum visit, including when to see your doctor and what you can expect. 

The Postpartum Period

The time of your life after you have a baby is called the postpartum or postnatal period. It is broken down into three phases. 

  • Phase one is the initial recovery during the first six to twelve hours after giving birth.
  • The second stage lasts two to six weeks while your body is physically healing, and you are adjusting to life with your newborn.
  • The third part is the gradual return of your body to the way it was before your pregnancy. Of course, some things may not entirely go back to the way they were. This time of healing can take up to six months.

When to See the Doctor

In the past, a postpartum check-up was a one-time visit scheduled between four and six weeks after delivery. However, thoughts on postnatal care have changed in recent years. Health experts now consider postpartum care an ongoing process based on each individual’s needs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines published in 2013 recommend at least four postnatal interactions after delivery: in the first 24 hours, on the third day, between 7-14 days, and at six weeks.

In 2018, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) updated its guidelines to reflect an ongoing process. 

After the initial care at birth, the first postpartum contact or visit should be within three weeks. You should stay in contact with your healthcare provider during the first three months, and a complete and thorough postpartum exam should occur no later than twelve weeks.

Why You Need to Go

After you have a baby, you experience physical and emotional changes. A visit with your doctor during this time can help prevent complications. If something isn't right, the doctor can catch it and treat it early before it becomes a problem.

This appointment is also time set aside to talk to your doctor about sensitive issues and get answers to questions you may have about bleeding, your sex drive, birth control, the baby blues, postpartum depression, and more.

All pregnant women should receive postpartum care even if the pregnancy ends with a devastating loss. Physical and emotional care and support are even more critical during a very difficult time.

What to Expect

You should see your doctor or talk to your doctor on the phone within three weeks of giving birth. If you have a c-section, complications, or other health issues such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, you may see your doctor sooner and keep in touch with the doctor more often as you heal.

At your first contact, you will spend some time talking to your doctor. The doctor may also check your blood pressure or follow up with any other concerns. As your care continues, the health care team can keep in touch with you in a variety of ways. You may go to the office, see a health care provider at home, or talk to the doctor on the phone or by text message.

As postpartum care nears its end, you should have a thorough health and wellness examination before you transition to well-care. Your comprehensive exam can take place as early as four weeks after birth, but no later than 12 weeks, depending on your situation. This visit is a complete check-up of your physical, social, and psychological health. 

During this appointment, you will have a full physical exam. The doctor may:

  • Check your weight
  • Take your blood pressure
  • Check your perineum to see how you’re healing
  • Check an episiotomy, tear, or c-section wound if you have one
  • Check to see if your uterus is shrinking as expected
  • Check your breasts and talk about breastfeeding
  • Discuss any health issues you have
  • Talk to you about the postpartum blues and depression
  • Answer questions about your labor and delivery if you have them

You may also have your general gynecological screening if you are due for it. It may include a Pap smear, bloodwork to check for anemia or high blood sugar, and a urine test if you have urinary problems or symptoms of a urinary tract infection.

The doctor will also talk to you about:

  • How your body is recovering from childbirth 
  • Your emotions and how you feel about motherhood
  • Your mood
  • Any anxiety or depression that you may be feeling
  • Your social support system
  • How you are sleeping
  • Nutrition and your eating habits 
  • How caring for your baby is going
  • How bottle-feeding or breastfeeding is going
  • If you are considering having more children
  • Any concerns about sex
  • Birth control
  • Managing any health concerns such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or other conditions
  • Following up with other health practitioners for any issues you may have
  • Continuing to tend to your health through routine care

Bring Your Questions 

You are bound to have questions, especially if you just had your first baby. But, since pregnancy and birth can be very different with each child, experienced moms can have questions, too.

As questions come up, write them down so you can bring them to your appointment. If you don't write them down, you may not remember everything you want to ask once you're sitting in the office. And remember, there are no silly questions. You shouldn't feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about asking your doctor anything. That's one of the reasons they're there, and they want to help. Some of the things you may want to ask about are:

  • Your delivery
  • The healing process
  • Preventing problems now and in the future
  • Birth control
  • Sex
  • Tampons
  • Exercise
  • Breastfeeding
  • Breast issues such as pain or lumps
  • Caring for your newborn
  • Returning to work

Symptoms to Bring Up

Those pesky pregnancy symptoms may finally be gone, but the postpartum period has its own set of discomforts. Most of the time, postpartum symptoms are common and expected. However, sometimes they can be a sign of a complication. So, you should discuss all your symptoms with your doctor. The doctor can reassure you of what's normal and help you find relief, but also look into any concerning symptoms. You should talk to your doctor about:  

When to Call the Doctor

You do not have to wait for your scheduled postpartum appointment to talk to or see the doctor if you have urgent concerns. You should call the doctor or go to the hospital if you have:

  • A fever over 100.4 F
  • Bleeding that is getting heavier
  • Severe pain
  • Swelling in your body, especially your hands or face
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A headache that is not going away or getting worse
  • Foul-smelling vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Difficulty caring for yourself and your baby
  • Feelings of depression
  • Painful, burning urination or urinary frequency

Skipping It 

Not all women get postpartum care. Up to 40% of women do not follow up with a doctor after giving birth. There are many reasons for this, such as:

  • Not knowing about it
  • Not knowing who to call
  • Being too busy
  • Having too many other things to do
  • Thinking it isn't necessary
  • Feeling good
  • Not having anyone to watch the baby
  • Having been through it before many times
  • Concerns about the cost
  • The insurance will not cover it

While there are things that make can make it difficult or inconvenient to get there, you should make every effort to see the doctor. If you have to bring your baby with you, you can. If you’re concerned about the cost or your insurance, talk to the hospital staff or your health care provider for helpful resources.

Skipping out on postpartum care can have some unintended consequences. 

  • You may not realize you have an infection or a postpartum complication.
  • You may not heal well. 
  • You could get pregnant again quickly.
  • You could have undiagnosed postpartum depression.

A Word From Verywell

During pregnancy, prenatal visits are plentiful. But, the attention to an expecting mom's health and wellness seems to fade once the baby is born. Care during the postpartum period can be overlooked at a time when many women need it most.

The body changes so much during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. It is incredible what the body goes through in less than one year. And, it's true that some women feel wonderful after childbirth. But, for others, the physical and emotional challenges of the fourth trimester can be a struggle. 

The continuation of care after pregnancy is so important. Just as you need ongoing care during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, you need it while you're healing in the days, weeks, and months after your baby is born. Postpartum care should be part of your overall pregnancy care. You and doctor should work together to make sure your health is monitored and managed throughout the entire process. So, talk about it with your doctor while you're pregnant, be sure to make your appointments, and don't skip out on them even if you're feeling good. 

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Article Sources

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