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Baby & child.

Updated: 24 May 2022

Postnatal care: what happens after you’ve given birth?

Find out what care you can expect from midwives and doctors in the early weeks with your newborn baby, from the postnatal ward to home visits and your six-week GP check-up.
Martha Roberts
Sca postnatal care 483782

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.

We take you through the support you can expect at the hospital after the birth, as well as at postnatal appointments with your midwife after you’ve come home.

The care you’ll receive just after giving birth will depend on if you have your baby at home, in a birth centre or in a labour ward. Take a look at our information on maternity options to see how your place of birth can affect the first hours and days with your new baby.

Why might I be admitted to the postnatal ward?

If you or your baby need ongoing care after the birth you’ll be admitted to a postnatal ward at a local hospital. You’ll probably need to stay at least one night at the hospital if you have:

  • a c-section, either elective or emergency.
  • an assisted birth with forceps or ventouse cap.
  • extensive tearing which requires stitching in theatre or monitoring.
  • a pregnancy condition, like pre-eclampsia, that means you need to be monitored after the birth.
  • your baby needs monitoring, for example if they’re having trouble feeding.

What is the postnatal ward like?

Postnatal wards are located in maternity hospitals, often right next to the labour ward.

On the ward, you’ll be sharing a room and bathroom with other new mums and their babies. A team of midwives, nurses and doctors will look after you until you’re well enough to go home.

Your baby will always stay with you on the ward. The only exception is if they need extra care after the birth which can’t be provided on the postnatal ward, in which case they’ll be taken to the special care unit.

Can my partner stay the night?

Some hospitals only allow partners to come during visiting hours. Check locally for more information.

You may feel better staying on the postnatal ward if your birth partner is able to be there with you during the night, and most postnatal wards will let your partner stay if you want them to. However, some hospitals only allow partners to come during visiting hours.

According to a CQC study of women who gave birth in January 2018:

  • 71% were able to have their partner with them as much as they wanted.
  • 22% said that their partners were restricted to visiting hours.
  • 13% weren’t able to have their partner with them as there wasn’t anywhere for them to sleep (for example, a fold-out bed or reclining chair).

You can check with your midwife what the policy is at your local hospital.

Can I get a private room?

Postnatal wards can be very busy so some women prefer to pay for a private room, also known as an amenity room, to get as much rest and privacy as possible after the birth.

Not all NHS hospitals provide private postnatal rooms, and the cost can vary from £70 up to several hundred pounds per night.

Talk to your midwife about whether the hospital where you’re planning to give birth offers private rooms and what the price tag is if this is something you would like to consider.  

When will I be discharged after giving birth?

While there’s no way of knowing how long you’ll have to stay on the postnatal ward in advance, you may find it comforting to know that most women don’t have to stay more than a couple of days.

Three quarters of new mums are able to go home within 48 hours of the birth and just one in ten stay for five days or more.

How long do women stay in hospital after giving birth?

  • 17% leave in 0-12 hours
  • 21% leave in 12-24 hours
  • 36% leave in 24-48 hours
  • 16% leave in 3-4 days
  • 10% leave in 5 or more days

Source: 2017 maternity study by the Care Quality Commission.

What happens at postnatal appointments?

Once you're back home after the birth you'll have appointments with your community midwife.

Once you’re back home you’ll have appointments with your community midwife.

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.

Read more about how to make the most of your midwife appointments or download this list of tips.

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.

Newborn baby checks

Your baby’s first thorough physical examination will take place within 72 hours of the birth. If you’re on the postnatal ward, the examination is likely to take place before you’re discharged.

At every appointment after that, 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.

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.

Here’s a guide to the routine tests you’ll be offered for your baby in the first few days and weeks:

  • Heel prick test Drops of blood are taken and screened for genetic conditions including cystic fibrosis - around five days after birth.
  • Eyes A special torch is used to check that your baby's eyes look and move as expected - within 72 hours and at 6-8 weeks.
  • Heart Your baby's pulse is checked and their heart is listened to with a stethoscope - within 72 hours and at 6-8 weeks.
  • Hips Checked to make sure the joints are formed properly - within 72 hours and at 6-8 weeks.
  • Testicles Check to make sure that boys' testicles are in the right place - within 72 hours and at 6-8 weeks.
  • Hearing A soft earpiece plays gentle clicking sounds into your baby's ears to check their hearing - within a few weeks of giving birth.

How many times do women see a midwife after going home?

  • 28% see a midwife 1 or 2 times
  • 52% see a midwife 3 or 4 times
  • 14% see a midwife 5 or 6 times
  • 6% see a midwife 7 times or more

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.

Your 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.

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.