When women find out they are pregnant, they have regular check-ups with their obstetrician or midwife. They’re typically seen once a month or more, and the frequency increases the closer the due date.
Then once they give birth, they’re not seen again for six weeks. After that, women are on their own. During those six weeks, a lot happens. Pregnancy and childbirth are traumatic for the body. Being a new mother is challenging both physically and mentally. So, why are women left with no support from the medical community during this time?
OBs and midwives take care of women during pregnancy up to childbirth. Pediatricians care for newborns. But there’s no healthcare provider specific to support women postpartum unless things get dire. Postnatal care is one of the most understudied medical topics, and women face many medical challenges that could lead to long-term health issues during this period.
Postnatal complications women can face
Women don’t have dedicated healthcare providers after childbirth, which can lead to many complications. Lack of care is the primary reason the U.S. has the highest mortality rate during childbirth of any high-income country.
In a two-year study performed by the 4th Trimester Project, researchers found that new moms are often unaware of the complications or are too embarrassed to broach the subject with their providers. Many women don’t realize treatment is available to support them.
These symptoms may include (and aren’t limited to):
- Heavy, long-term bleeding
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Digestive issues
- Night sweats and chills
- Incontinence issues
- Engorged breasts
- Back pain
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Mood changes and brain fog
- Depression and anxiety
- Pelvic floor issues
- Incision pain and/or infection
Many providers who deliver babies aren’t trained to look for signs of nerve damage or pelvic floor complications — for many women, the pelvic floor is ignored in postpartum care. Even though nearly one-quarter of women experience pelvic floor issues after childbirth, pelvic floor dysfunction goes untreated.
Many women also struggle with lactation and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding issues may lead to undue stress, engorgement, infection, and malnourishment for the infant. Hospitals have lactation consultants on staff, but their services aren’t part of standard care for postnatal women.
Women face postnatal complications that can change their lives
Women may experience more severe complications during childbirth that can alter their bodies, cause permanent damage, or be life-threatening. Issues with hemorrhaging, infection, incontinence, pelvic girdle pain, and pelvic organ prolapse can arise without any prior knowledge.
It’s estimated that sixty percent of women experience diastasis recti, or abdominal wall separation. Many women also suffer from weakened pelvic floor muscles, leading to incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and organ prolapse (when the organs protrude from the vagina).
Postpartum women’s emotional well-being is often overlooked as well. Postpartum mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and psychosis have been discussed more frequently. One in seven women will suffer from postpartum depression, yet regularly screening still isn’t offered in many medical facilities.
How we can change postnatal care for women
Postnatal care is underrepresented and under researched. Supporting organizations like the 4th Trimester Project and La Leche League will help move the needle to provide the right care for women after childbirth.
If you are someone you love is planning to get pregnant or is currently pregnant, it’s crucial to advocate for postnatal needs. Ask many questions, do ample research, and don’t be afraid to speak up if something doesn’t feel right.