Questions To Ask At Your Postpartum Checkup
Mental health, sex, pain, sleep, struggles. Nothing is off-limits at the postpartum appointment.
By Ashley Ziegler
Medical Experts: Lyndsey Harper, MD, FACOG, IF, and Jessica Lee, MD, MPH
Throughout pregnancy, there are so many prenatal doctor appointments that it’s hard to keep count. After the baby arrives, however, the only standard appointment is a single postpartum checkup around six weeks after delivery, so you want to get as much out of it as possible.
Unfortunately, circumstances tend to work against new parents at this important checkup. The appointment often feels like a whirlwind because there’s so much to cover. Not to mention, you’re probably sleep-deprived and very likely have your newborn in tow, so actively paying attention might be a challenge. But if you have questions you want answers to, now is the time to ask.
One thing that will help you out is knowing what to expect at the appointment. When you’re able to anticipate what your doctor will examine and address in the appointment, then you can decide if there is anything beyond that list that you’d like to discuss, or if there’s any part you’d like to go more in-depth about.
Another tip is to do some pre-appointment preparation. Lyndsey Harper, MD, FACOG, IF, founder of Rosy and an OB-GYN practicing in Dallas, Texas, tells Pregnancy & Newborn, “Before any visit to the doctor or other provider, it is always good to make a list of questions so that you don’t forget the things that are on your mind.” This is especially true in a visit like a postpartum checkup when there’s so much to do in a very short window of time.
Of course, finding time to come up with a list of questions to ask your doctor when you’re trying to care for a newborn and running on about three hours of sleep is a very big ask. So, to help you out, here’s a look at what you can expect at your postpartum visit as well as a list of expert-recommended questions to ask during the appointment.
What Do They Do At Your Postpartum Checkup?
Now that the baby is out of your belly, there are no more ultrasounds, measurements, or cervical checks, but there is still plenty for your doctor to evaluate. Jessica Lee, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, explains, “The postpartum period is one of great change for all mothers,” so providers have a long list of boxes to check at this appointment including ongoing health conditions, physical health, mental health, emotional health, feeding, birth control, and more. “Patients can expect to complete a mood questionnaire at each postpartum visit and also get a complete set of vital signs taken,” Dr. Lee says.
Dr. Harper notes, “In most cases, this is an in-person visit comprised of time to discuss these topics as well as a physical exam that includes an external and internal pelvic exam with a speculum to look at the cervix and vaginal walls as well as a check with the provider’s hand to check the size of the uterus.” Additionally, according to Dr. Lee, “We may be doing an incision check if [the patient] had a cesarean section.”
What Should I Ask My OB-GYN Or Health Care Provider?
Since the postpartum checkup to-do list is long for your doctor, they may not go into as much detail as you’d like in certain areas, so you’ll need to address them directly by asking questions. Both Dr. Lee and Dr. Harper agree that there are no bad questions patients can ask when it comes to their postpartum care.
But, if your brain fog is making it difficult to come up with a list of questions, here are a few important topics to consider addressing during your visit.
Can We Discuss My Mental Health?
“The postpartum [period] is one of the most stressful times in a woman’s life for several reasons,” says Dr. Harper, “If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious most of the time, sad most of the time, or just not yourself, these are serious concerns that need to be brought up.”
Postpartum mood disorders are a serious concern, and new parents are often so overwhelmed by everything that they brush off feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, and more, as simply part of the adjustment period. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 8 birthing parents will experience postpartum depression and some studies suggest postpartum anxiety rates are even higher and the condition more commonly goes undiagnosed.
If you’re feeling off, bring it up to your doctor, because they can probably help. “If these feelings and symptoms are discussed, then adequate support for mom and baby can be brought in,” says Dr. Harper. “The earlier these symptoms are recognized, discussed, and treated, the better the mother and new infant will be in the long term,” she adds.
Are These Symptoms Normal?
There’s no sugarcoating it, some of the things your body goes through during the postpartum period are not pretty. Bleeding, hemorrhoids, night sweats, pain, and sore nipples are just a few of the many symptoms you might experience in the weeks following your baby’s birth.
Still, just because it’s common for the body to do some weird things as it heals and adjusts, that doesn’t mean every symptom is normal. And, even if a symptom is considered normal, if it’s making you uneasy then it should be assessed by your doctor.
Can You Refer Me To A Specialist?
As wonderful as your OB-GYN (or alternative health care provider) might be, they have their own medical specialty, so they can only treat so much. However, if you’re experiencing something during the postpartum period that they aren’t able to help you with, they will likely be able to refer you to someone else who can.
“Remember most providers have a network of support for you,” says Dr. Lee, “including lactation consultants, pediatricians, social workers, and nurses to make the transition [during the postpartum period] as smooth as possible.” Other specialists your health care provider may be able to refer you to include pelvic floor therapists, urologists, psychiatrists, and more.
When Can I Start Doing Activities Again?
There’s a whole list of activities you can’t do during pregnancy and in the immediate weeks following delivery, so if you’re itching to get back to something that was once prohibited, now is the time to inquire about it. If there isn’t a specific activity you want to know about, Dr. Lee suggests asking about appropriate activity levels for you in general, based on the type of delivery you had.
What Are My Birth Control Options?
Assuming all is well with your recovery, you may want to get intimate with your partner again, and Dr. Lee says the postpartum checkup is a good time to ask if you’re cleared to start having sex. Similarly, if the thought of intercourse is a bit scary for you right now (who can blame you?!), your doctor will be able to provide tips to help you feel comfortable as you navigate postpartum sex.
Regardless of how eager you are to start having sex again, it’s important to remember that all it takes is one round of unprotected intercourse to find yourself pregnant again, which is why Dr. Lee recommends using your postpartum visit as an opportunity to discuss birth control options. Even if you’re breastfeeding or if your period hasn’t returned, you can still get pregnant in as little as three weeks after delivering a baby, so unless you’re interested in caring for another newborn as soon as your current infant finally starts sleeping through the night, then it’s important to explore contraception.
Unfortunately, there is only one regularly scheduled postpartum visit, and while you are welcome to schedule a visit with your provider anytime, it might be difficult to find the time to pop in again when you’re trying to care for your new baby.
Your body may be on the road to healing, but it’s not done changing, so it’s important to know what’s normal and what isn’t as you continue to recover. So, assuming you’re not asked to schedule a follow-up visit at your postpartum checkup, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor what you should expect in the coming months and what should prompt you to call the office.
Questions And Concerns That Shouldn’t Wait
Remember, just because you leave the hospital with your postpartum checkup scheduled, does not mean you can’t be seen beforehand. In fact, there are plenty of situations where Dr. Harper and Dr. Lee say patients should be seen by their provider urgently, regardless of when their postpartum visit is scheduled.
Some symptoms they say require immediate attention include:
- Heavy bleeding
- Signs of infection at your C-section incision, including redness, pus, and tenderness
- Internal abdominal or vaginal pain that isn’t improving as the body heals
- Signs of a breast infection or mastitis (tenderness, fever, fatigue)
- Symptoms associated with blood pressure, including headache, blurry vision, nausea, vomiting, or significant swelling
- Feelings of depression, anxiety, rage, and/or thoughts of harming yourself, your baby, or others
The postpartum period is incredibly overwhelming, in basically every sense of the word, and it’s important to lean on your support system during this time—and that includes your health care providers. They are here to help, but it’s up to you to ask them questions so they can ensure you’re taken care of.