Your pregnancy-oriented doctor visits don’t end with giving birth. You can expect to have two important postpartum appointments—about two and six weeks after delivery, respectively. Whether you’re looking forward to them, or they seem like extraneous items on your overloaded to-do list, these are key opportunities to talk to your doctor. Do not blow them off.
Going to the doctor might be the last thing on your mind or seem unnecessary, especially if you feel pretty good, or don’t feel that you have any extenuating healing circumstances or medical issues that need immediate attention. However, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends seeing your obstetrics provider in the first three weeks after delivery, and most OBs increasingly recommend an in-office follow-up two weeks postpartum.
At your postpartum visits, your doctor or midwife will check on your physical, mental, and emotional health, but you’ll also have a chance to ask questions about your labor and delivery, as well as your recovery. From breastfeeding to sleep (or lack thereof) to parenting methods to what is (and isn’t) normal with your physical or mental recovery, anything is fair game.
While there isn’t much you need to do before your postpartum visits, there are ways to prepare for them.
“It's a great idea to have your top questions written down so you don't forget them,” says Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an obstetrician-gynecologist. “Between sleep deprivation and ‘mom brain,’ it can be hard to keep it all straight!”
Dr. Michele Torosis, a female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery fellow at UCLA Health, shares her answers to the common questions that come up with her patients at these checkups.
These visits are important opportunities to address your challenges and concerns, from managing pain to planning for a future pregnancy. Here are some questions to come prepared with—and a preview of responses your provider might have for you.
Here’s what you can expect from your postpartum visits and how to optimize the time spent with your provider.
One of the most fundamental purposes of the postpartum visits is to assess how you’re physically recovering. Your doctor will perform a pelvic exam to make sure that any vaginal lacerations are healing—and that your uterus is shrinking back to its pre-baby size, which will happen whether you delivered vaginally or via C-section.
You might be wondering about your uterus—or maybe your body’s shape in general. Don’t worry if you still feel about six months pregnant. According to Dr. Lincoln, it usually takes about six weeks after childbirth for your uterus to return to its normal size (about the size of an apple).
After your doctor or midwife finishes the physical exam, it’s a good time to ask questions about any symptoms you’ve been experiencing, such as bleeding, blood clots, constipation, hemorrhoids, or urinary incontinence. Most of these symptoms are par for the course, when it comes to recovery, but it still may be comforting to hear that from your doctor.
Your doctor will likely broach the subject of contraception, if not at your second-week postpartum visit, then at your sixth-week postpartum visit. While getting pregnant again might not be the first (second, or tenth!) thing on your mind, it’s important to discuss the possibility. In fact, the American College of Gynecology (ACOG) warns against women getting pregnant in intervals shorter than 6 months1. Not to be too alarmist, but there are risks to be aware of.
“Pregnancies that are conceived in this short interval are at slightly higher risks for complications like preterm birth and, if you've birthed by cesarean, for uterine rupture as the scar has not had time to fully heal,” says Dr. Lincoln.
There are a few things to consider regarding contraception, however. “If you are exclusively breastfeeding, lactational amenorrhea may be a form of birth control for you, but review this with your provider to ensure you meet the criteria for it to work best,” says Dr. Lincoln. And believe it or not, your period may return as early as your sixth postpartum week, so depending on your situation, contraception may be your best bet to prevent a pregnancy so soon2.
Dr. Lincoln tells her patients “estrogen should be avoided in breastfeeding until milk is well established, and even then can potentially interfere.”3 Never fear, though. Plenty of birth control methods are safe after pregnancy. These include:
If you’re breastfeeding, your provider can discuss methods that won’t interfere with your milk supply.
A big portion of your postpartum visit should be dedicated to discussing how you’re feeling, mentally and emotionally. Having a baby is a giant life transition, and it’s going to be at least a little bumpy. It’s incredibly normal to experience what’s called the baby blues, or feelings of sadness that accompany the postpartum period. In fact, 70 percent to 80 percent of moms experience this very thing4.
Baby blues might feel like mood swings: One moment you’re elated that you’re finally holding your sweet baby, while the next you may feel tearful for seemingly no reason. Don’t worry—this fluctuating state of emotions often subsides after a few weeks, but mention it to your doctor if it doesn’t, or if it gets worse. It’s possible that your baby blues might fall into the category of a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), often collectively referred to as postpartum depression or anxiety. PMADs are more serious than baby blues, persist beyond the first few postpartum weeks, and typically require medical treatment.
Remember: No question is a bad question. Be sure to discuss any and all concerns you may have with your provider. Your health and wellness is needed to ensure your baby’s health and wellness.
Pregnancy, labor, and delivery bring myriad changes.
Even with the smoothest of births, it's normal to experience changes.
Two-thirds of babies born in the United States are born through vaginal deliveries.
An estimated one in three women delivering babies in the United States gives birth this way.