Professional Reference articles are designed for health professionals to use. They are written by UK doctors and based on research evidence, UK and European Guidelines. You may find one of our health articles more useful.
Treatment of almost all medical conditions has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. NICE has issued rapid update guidelines in relation to many of these. This guidance is changing frequently. Please visit https://www.nice.org.uk/covid-19 to see if there is temporary guidance issued by NICE in relation to the management of this condition, which may vary from the information given below.
This check should be patient-centred and should cover physical, psychological and social aspects of having a new baby. Written information should be available to take away, if required.
- Note how the baby was delivered.
- Ask whether there are any particular worries about her own health.
- Ask whether her perineum/caesarean section scar is healing well. Note whether there is any pain.
- Ask whether lochia is normal and/or whether periods have resumed. Lochia has usually ceased by six weeks postnatally. Periods do not resume until breastfeeding ceases in the majority.
- Discuss whether bowel and bladder are functioning normally. Ask whether there is any incontinence.
- Ask whether she is breastfeeding. If so, encourage her to continue, if appropriate. Ask about any problems such as soreness or engorgement.
- Ask how the birth was. Check with her whether there are any issues that need to be talked through.
- Ask how her mood is. Screen for postnatal depression. Use a self-report questionnaire - eg, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Score - if in doubt. Other questionnaires which may be used as alternatives in assessment are the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). Postpartum depression can be treated either pharmacologically or with psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). There is also some evidence for the role of exercise in reducing symptoms of depression . See the separate Postnatal Depression article for further information about detection and management of this condition.
- Ask whether there are any worries about the baby.
- Ask whether she is well supported at home.
- Check with her on how she is sleeping. If this is a problem, consider how she might gain support from a partner or family. Expressing a night-time bottle might give her a break.
- Encourage any household smokers to quit. Explain passive smoking increases risk of sudden infant death syndrome . Explain too that it increases risk of childhood asthma. Refer to a smoking cessation clinic if required.
- Provide the opportunity to talk without her partner present to give an opportunity where relevant to explore issues such as domestic violence. (Domestic violence often begins in pregnancy.)
- Palpate the abdomen - if able to feel the uterus, consider retained products of conception , or endometritis if tender.
- Check blood pressure - particularly if it was previously high.
- Perform vaginal examination if she has:
- If smears are required, they are normally delayed until three months post-delivery.
- Weight. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Quality Standard advises that women whose body mass index (BMI) is over 30 kg/m2 should be offered referral for advice on healthy eating and physical activity.
Also consider checking:
- Haemoglobin level if previously anaemic.
- Rubella status (vaccinate if found not to be immune during antenatal check).
- Glucose tolerance test (GTT) for women who developed gestational diabetes.
Sex and contraception
Ask if sexual intercourse has resumed with her partner. If not, reassure her that it is now safe to try.
Enquire whether contraception is required - full-time breastfeeding (the Lactational Amenorrhoea Method) provides good contraception for up to six months if she remains amenorrhoeic, but fertility soon returns if breastfeeding is reduced or discontinued. 'Fully breastfeeding' is defined for this purpose as at least four-hourly feeds in the day, and six-hourly feeds at night. If additional contraception is needed, the following are suitable:
- Intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD).
- Levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system.
- Progestogen-only pills and implants.
- Combined oral contraceptive pill.
As women may not return for healthcare later, it is an opportunity to discuss family planning. However, there is mixed evidence of the efficacy of this approach. A compromise is to provide leaflets for the women to take away and refer to at home, when they are ready and able to consider the issues.
There is also a Postpartum Contraception article for further details on contraceptive choice at this time.
Pelvic floor exercises
Many incontinence problems begin during the antenatal period, but some women develop urinary incontinence after childbirth. Mode of delivery is important. When vaginal delivery is compared specifically with elective caesarean, the risk of stress urinary incontinence is over three times higher; however, there is no difference in risk when comparing instrumental vaginal delivery and spontaneous vaginal delivery. There is some evidence that pelvic floor exercises are helpful in the prevention of stress incontinence, particularly for those at higher risk of problems - eg, instrumental delivery, third-degree tear. There is also evidence supporting the widespread recommendation for pelvic floor exercise programmes as first-line treatment. Provide leaflets or suggest performing the following as often as possible every day, for ever - as the effect of training is not long-lasting. Direct to the patient resource leaflet Pelvic floor exercises for full information. However, briefly, pelvic floor exercise advice is as follows:
- Slow contractions: advise pulling up her pelvic floor muscles as though she were trying to stop herself urinating or passing wind, and holding for 10 seconds. She may need to build up to this. Repeat 10 times, and do 3 times a day.
- Quick contractions: contracting pelvic muscles, as before, and relaxing them rapidly in succession 10 times. Do 3 times a day.
- Associate pelvic floor exercises with a regular activity to prompt remembering to do them; for example, with each feed, or cup of tea, or a meal.
Further reading and references
The Baby Friendly Initiative; UNICEF UK
Birth after previous caesarean section; Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (Oct 2015)
Recommendations on postnatal care of the mother and newborn; World Health Organization, 2013
Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale; University of California, San Francisco
The Management of Third- and Fourth-Degree Perineal Tears; Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2015)
Postnatal care; NICE Quality Standard, July 2013 (last updated June 2015)
Postnatal Sexual and Reproductive Health; Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (2017)
CEU Clinical Guidance: Contraception After Pregnancy; Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (January 2017, amended October 2020)
Hutton EK, Hannah ME, Willan AR, et al; Urinary stress incontinence and other maternal outcomes 2 years after caesarean or vaginal birth for twin pregnancy: a multicentre randomised trial. BJOG. 2018 Dec125(13):1682-1690. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.15407. Epub 2018 Aug 27.
Tahtinen RM, Cartwright R, Tsui JF, et al; Long-term Impact of Mode of Delivery on Stress Urinary Incontinence and Urgency Urinary Incontinence: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Eur Urol. 2016 Jul70(1):148-158. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2016.01.037. Epub 2016 Feb 10.
Woodley SJ, Boyle R, Cody JD, et al; Pelvic floor muscle training for prevention and treatment of urinary and faecal incontinence in antenatal and postnatal women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Dec 2212:CD007471. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007471.pub3.