From midwife appointments to scans and antenatal classes, our diaries are packed during pregnancy with regular checks on our mental and physical well-being, along with that of our unborn babies. However, that support pretty much grinds to a halt after our babies are born, often at a time when it is needed most.
The early days of motherhood are a vulnerable and emotional time, and while focus understandably shifts to the newborn, it is still crucial that mothers also receive support and care to navigate their new role and the physical and psychological impact that comes with it.
Currently, support is generally limited to the six-week check with your GP, which often coincides with a physical check on your baby. However, it is becoming apparent that for many mothers these appointments either aren’t happening or are shockingly rushed, leaving some with physical or mental health issues going undetected.
A new survey by NCT found that six out of seven new mothers are not getting a checkup of their health six weeks after giving birth, as appointments focused solely on their baby. Much of the blame has been pinned on COVID restrictions, and while it is understandable that face-to-face appointments have to be limited and prioritised, many of these issues stem from way before the pandemic.
From my own experience, I was shocked at how brief my six-week appointment was. It felt more like a box-ticking exercise rather than a genuine check on my welfare, with the doctor telling me I looked happy before crossing off any questions about my postnatal mental health. Thankfully she was right, I was and still am incredibly happy and well since having a baby, but so many mothers aren’t and become adept at hiding it, meaning their one chance at it becoming observed and helped could be lost.
There are also the physical ramifications of pregnancy and childbirth to consider too. From diastasis recti to pelvic floor dysfunction and healing from surgery or tears, it takes a huge toll on our bodies, and while we are led to believe that some of these issues are normal and that we should just get on with them, they can and should be treated.
It is uncommon for women to have these physical checks from their GP, and the majority are cleared to resume their normal exercise and activity with no guidance into how to do so, or without knowing whether they could potentially be making matters worse.
Things couldn’t be more different in France, where mothers are given a course of ten free physical therapy sessions to restore the core and pelvic floor after birth, helping to resolve and prevent issues such as prolapse and incontinence, which we aren’t even properly educated about, let alone treated for.
Here in the UK the support we receive seems to be something of a postcode lottery, with the health checks and quality of care varying greatly. This means we have to take it upon ourselves to seek help, and this often has to be done privately, a luxury many can’t afford. But it’s time for a change.
New NICE guidelines have been released recognising that postnatal care needs to be improved, with a focus on ensuring women are listened to in order to get the help they need, receive better information and support on everything from safe bed-sharing to breastfeeding, and to ensure there are no gaps in postnatal support.
In the meantime, there are many other ways to ensure we get the care we deserve, for ourselves and the next generation of mothers. Here are just a few ways we can make a difference…
Ways to get better postnatal care and support:
Complain to your GP and raise the issue with your local MP
If you aren’t happy with the care you have received, one of the first things you can do is complain to your GP, so they can investigate whether things need to be changed within your practice. You could also write to your local MP to raise the issue and see if improvements can be made for your community. Find your local MP and their contact details at writetothem.com.
Utilise your midwives and health visitor as much as you can
Unfortunately, in-person appointments and regular contact with your midwives or health visitor are not a given at the moment, but they are still available should you want or need their help. Push for a face-to-face appointment if you feel you need one and write down any concerns you may have so you don’t forget anything when you speak to them. The only person who will advocate for yourself is you, so don’t be afraid to push for what you need.
Seek mental health support
If you are struggling with anxiety or depression or just want someone to talk to, help is there if you need it. We’ve rounded up five free resources for perinatal mental health support, including organisations like PANDAS and Home Start to get you started.
Prioritise your pelvic health and physical recovery
Struggling with your physical recovery after birth? Ask your GP to be referred to a pelvic health physiotherapist, or if you have the money, go private. You can find a directory of your local practitioners on the Squeezy app directory or book a Mummy MOT; they will help to identify and treat any issues, and give you an exercise plan to restore your core and pelvic floor.
Find your local breastfeeding support or IBCLC
Breastfeeding doesn’t always come easy, and eight in ten women in the UK have said they stopped before they wanted to. But you don’t have to give up or put up with pain and other issues; find your local breastfeeding support group or IBCLC who can offer guidance, check your baby’s latch and talk to you about any other concerns or questions you have. Find an IBCLC lactation consultant near you here.
Learn how to check and improve your core strength
In an ideal world, we would all be professionally checked for signs of diastasis recti, or ab separation, after birth, but it is something you can test for yourself.
Pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert Sara Haley shows how to check for diastasis recti at home on her YouTube channel. Meanwhile, we’ve rounded up some of the best postnatal fitness programmes, including Kayla Itsines and Kelsey Wells’ plans, to help you ease your way back into exercise with low impact, appropriate moves.
How do you feel about the postnatal care you received? Share your stories in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org.