Find out what help you can expect in the early weeks with your newborn baby, from community midwife visits to your six-week GP check-up.
Going from being pregnant to recovering from birth and caring for a newborn is a drastic change and it’s not unusual to feel out of your depth. For the first few weeks at home, your community midwives will be at hand to make sure you and your baby are doing well and to help make the transition easier for you.
What happens at postnatal appointments?
At each appointment, your community midwife will make sure that you’re recovering well from labour and birth, that your newborn baby is healthy and feeding as they should, and that you’re coping emotionally and have the support you need.
The appointments are a perfect opportunity to ask any questions you have about your health or that of your baby. You may find it helpful to write down any questions you think of between your appointments to make sure you don’t forget anything important.
Download our list of quick tips on how to make the most of your midwife appointments.
Your physical recovery
Depending on the pregnancy, labour and delivery you had, in the days and weeks after birth your midwife will carry out various checks to see that your body is healing as expected and you don’t have any medical concerns. For example, your midwife can:
- check your stitches and healing after a vaginal birth
- make sure your wound isn’t infected and your stitches are healing after a c-section
- make sure you’re able to go to the toilet
- ask how heavy your vaginal bleeding (lochia) is, and whether you’re passing any large clots
- check you’re not developing any conditions like deep vein thrombosis or pre-eclampsia, which can start after the birth
- advise you on how and when to do pelvic floor exercises
- talk to you about when you can have sex, and when to start using contraception if you don’t want to get pregnant again.
Your emotional recovery
Pregnancy and birth are fraught with emotion and it’s very common for new parents to experience mental health problems. It’s important that you feel able to ask for help and your midwife is there to talk about how you’re feeling throughout this time and to make sure you get any support you need. Your midwife may:
- ask you how you’re coping emotionally, and check that you have support from your partner, family or friends
- talk to you about baby blues and how to manage it
- make sure you’re not developing postnatal depression, and ensure you’re getting the help you need if you are
- talk through the birth with you if you want to, and let you know how you can get birth counselling if you need it.
“The early weeks at home with my daughter, Phoebe, were really tough. I felt as though I’d made a mistake having a baby, but there was nothing I could do about it. When I had my six-week check-up, they confirmed that I was suffering from postnatal depression.” Read Abi’ story
Your newborn baby
At every appointment, your midwife will check your baby over and ask you questions to make sure they’re healthy and developing well. Your midwife will:
- weigh your baby to make sure they’re getting back to their birth weight
- ask how many wet and dirty nappies your baby has each day
- help you to get breastfeeding established, and tell you where you can get additional support if you need it
- advise you on safe ways to prepare and feed infant formula
- check your baby for jaundice, do the heel prick test and make sure their umbilical cord stump isn’t getting infected
- answer any questions you have on newborn care, for example how often to give them a bath and safe sleeping practices.
How many postnatal appointments will I have?
You’re likely to have your first midwife visit the day after you’ve been discharged from hospital, come home from the birth centre or following a home birth. After that, the number of times you’ll see your midwife depends on how well you and your baby are doing – more than half of women see a midwife three or four times after coming home.
You’ll probably have your postnatal appointments in your own home, which can be really helpful in the early days when you’re sore, tired and trying to bond with your new baby. However, in some areas, postnatal appointments are held in clinics or children’s centres instead.
You can ask your midwife at one of your antenatal appointments what happens after birth where you live.
Discharge from midwifery care
Once your midwife is happy with your recovery and your baby is gaining weight as expected, you’ll be discharged. This can happen as soon as 10 days after the birth, but it can also be any time up to 28 days after your baby was born – it all depends on your individual circumstances.
After you’ve been discharged, you can contact your GP or health visitor if you have any questions or concerns about your or your baby’s health.
How can I make the most of my six-week GP check-up?
Around six weeks after the birth, you should have the opportunity to have a postnatal appointment with your GP. In some areas, you’ll be sent an appointment automatically, while in others you need to contact the surgery yourself to set one up.
At the check-up, your GP may:
- make sure you’ve recovered physically from your vaginal birth or c-section
- measure your blood pressure if you had high blood pressure in pregnancy or during the birth
- offer to weigh you if you’re overweight or obese
- ask if your vaginal bleeding (lochia) has stopped or is reducing
- talk to you about your mental health and how you’re coping with parenting
- check if you’re due to have a cervical smear test, and schedule one for 12 weeks after the birth if so
- ask if you want advice on contraception.
However, there isn’t a set list of things that your GP will check at the appointment, so it can be a good idea to bring along a list of questions if you have any concerns you want to raise. For example, some GPs don’t routinely check your stitches after a vaginal birth, so if you want your stitches checked you may have to bring this up yourself.
Your GP can also refer you on to other services if they’re not able to help you directly, for example counselling or physiotherapy treatment. Have a think before the appointment if there is anything that you feel you need more help with.
“The early weeks at home with my daughter, Phoebe, were really tough. I felt as though I’d made a mistake having a baby, but there was nothing I could do about it. When I had my six-week check-up, the GP confirmed that I was suffering from postnatal depression.” Read Abi’ story
What if I need help later on?
Birth recovery can be a long process. It’s not at all uncommon to still be recovering physically when you have your six-week GP appointment, especially if you had a c-section or a complicated vaginal birth. Emotionally, too, you can start to feel the effects of a traumatic birth or the onset of postnatal depression long after your check-up.
You may want to seek help at a later point if:
- your postpartum bleeding (lochia) is continuing after 10-12 weeks
- you find sexual intercourse painful
- you have pain in your c-section incision for a long time after the birth
- your incontinence isn’t helped by pelvic floor exercises
- you develop mastitis or other breastfeeding-related pain
- you have symptoms of postnatal depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s important to know that you can always schedule an appointment with your GP, however long it’s been since the birth, if you have any concerns at all about your physical or emotional health.
You can also talk to your health visitor about how you’re feeling, and they can let you know who to speak to for further help.
These are the sources of information used in this article:
Care Quality Commission, Maternity Services Survey 2018 (2018)