From infection to anxiety, new mothers face all kinds of health risks following childbirth. In the United States, more than 700 women die every year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth and more than 50,000 suffer from life-threatening complications. These numbers reveal the fact that the United States has one of the industrialized world’s worst maternal health records. In an effort to change these statistics, a task force from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists or ACOG began looking at ways to improve maternal care. In April 2018 ACOG released suggested guidelines for gynecologists to adopt in their care plan. Caring for women during these special and fragile moments is not a task to be taken lightly. Giving birth can be magical, but it can also be traumatic and threatening. Check out these suggestions from ACOG on how to treat postpartum.
Four Recommendations for How to Treat Postpartum
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Here is a summary of the new guidelines for how to treat postpartum. Although there were many points made in the original outline created by ACOG, here are the guidelines broken down into four main points:
1. Touch base more often
ACOG recommends that postpartum care should be an ongoing process. As her physician, you should contact her within the first three weeks postpartum. From there, ongoing care should continue as needed. Many times, physicians are trained to focus more on the baby than on the mother. These guidelines are specifically instructing doctors to create a more comprehensive care plan for mom too.
2. Develop a plan
ACOG went on to say that postpartum care should actually start before the baby is even born. When you’re chatting with your patient, have a game plan ahead of time for anything that could happen after the baby is born. This way if your patient experiences any physical or mental health complications after birth, there’s already a plan in place and she’s not silently suffering or not sure where to turn. She already knows who to call if she’s experiencing depression and who to report any physical issues too.
3. Consider all the factors
Consider everything you know about your patient. Does she struggle with substance abuse? Has she had a miscarriage before? Does she have a pre-existing condition, like diabetes, that complicated her pregnancy? Any of these things can increase the risk of postpartum issues, so it’s important to have an open conversation about those things. A postpartum visit should be a full assessment of your patient’s physical, social, and psychological well-being.
4. Personalize treatment
With that said, treatment should be more personalized. Don’t have each woman come through a standard evaluation and send her on her way. Consider what each patient needs without comparing them to past patients or situations. While some might be at a higher risk for physical health issues, others could be experiencing mental struggles postpartum.
Recognizing Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
A critical piece in how to treat postpartum is knowing what the health risks are and being able to recognize the symptoms early. Although as a physician, you’re used to focusing on the physical risks, like infection, don’t forget about her emotional wellbeing. Something that is extremely common but often overlooked or hard to detect initially is postpartum depression. Postpartum depression affects more than 3 million people per year in the United States. If left untreated, it can cause problems later in life and be detrimental to mother and child. Know these four symptoms so you can help your patient if she is needs additional help:
- She’s showing mood changes such as anger, anxiety or loss of interest
- If you notice weight loss or weight gain
- If she mentions trouble sleeping or feeling restless
- Obvious symptoms such as saying she’s depressed, irritated or crying a lot
By following the recommended guidelines above, you’ll have an easier time identifying if your patient is going through postpartum depression. As a gynecologist, what are some other opportunities you see for improving women’s health and how to treat postpartum?