5. Sex and family planning
Returning to sex should be a personal decision. “Usually, it’s OK at six to eight weeks if everything is healed, or whenever Mom feels ready,” says Dr. Rosser. “What is important is that partners have open communication. Sex may be a bit different, so it is good to be open to it being different and take your time.”
When it comes to contraception and family planning, Dr. Rosser urges patients to have a plan in place before the baby arrives. Do not consider breastfeeding a form of contraception. “Before you become sexually active again, talk with your provider about birth control. Many patients will opt for an IUD right after delivery so that they don’t have to worry about an unplanned pregnancy immediately after birth.”
6. Diet and exercise
It is important for new moms to nourish their bodies with healthy, whole foods (lots of fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, and whole grains), drink plenty of water, and begin moving their bodies as they feel ready. Whether you have had a vaginal delivery or a C-section, an excellent place to start is simply walking: Go outside and walk around the block. Ease into it and build up your physical activity. For those who have had a C-section, check with your doctor about when you can resume more strenuous physical activity.
By eating well and moving your body, you are helping yourself heal and recover. Healthy babies need healthy, well-adjusted mothers. After all, “If Mom is not well, then she is not going to be able to care for her baby and her family the way that she might want,” says Dr. Rosser.
7. Chronic disease management
Postpartum visits are an opportunity to recognize risk factors for conditions like heart disease or obesity and to check that complications during pregnancy such as high blood pressure or diabetes are resolving. “We can provide risk reduction strategies and early intervention,” Dr. Rosser says. “It’s about educating, empowering, and motivating the patient and encouraging a healthy lifestyle that is consistent.”
8. Know the warning signs
One-third of maternal deaths occur after the birth of the baby, from one week through one year after delivery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And Black women are three to four times more likely to die of a pregnancy-related cause than white women. It’s a sobering statistic that OB-GYN experts are working diligently to change by raising awareness of certain warning signs.
Seek medical attention immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Fever or chills — This could indicate an infection vaginally (if there was a significant tear), in the womb, or of the C-section. Urinary tract infections can also be very common.
- Heavy, brisk, bright red bleeding — Postpartum women may bleed up to 4-6 weeks; however, if it is heavy all at once, it could be postpartum hemorrhage. “I tell women, if you saturate a pad every hour and that’s consistent for several hours, we want to see you,” says Dr. Rosser.
- Dizziness — A symptom associated with loss of blood.
- Shortness of breath or chest pain — This might signal a blood clot like deep venous thrombosis (DVT) or a pulmonary embolism.
- Severe headache — Sometimes associated with preeclampsia, which is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure or stroke.
- Swelling of the legs and feet — May be a sign of preeclampsia.
- Deep sadness, thoughts of hopelessness, or thoughts about death, suicide, or harming oneself or the baby — Postpartum depression affects one in 10 mothers and is very serious.
“These symptoms can be life-threatening,” explains Dr. Rosser. “Don’t ignore them or chalk them up to just being tired and postpartum. If it’s something that is out of the ordinary, please contact your doctor or go to the emergency room.”
Mothers who are considered high risk — they have diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or another chronic health condition — should be extra vigilant about any signs and symptoms that are not normal.
“Just as babies need care and attention during the fourth trimester, so too do mothers,” says Dr. Rosser. “Postpartum care is a crucial time to make sure Mom is safe and healthy so that the baby can be supported in the best possible way.”