Categories: Health

Campaigners call for new mothers to receive a GP check-up nine months after giving birth – WhatsNew2Day

GPs must carry out a health check on new mums nine months after giving birth, campaigners urge.

A growing number of medical professionals and charities warn that women are not getting enough support with their physical and mental health in the year after childbirth, leading millions to develop problems that can affect their lives for decades.

Currently, postnatal care ends with a health assessment by a GP five to eight weeks after birth, known as a six-week check-up, which is done at the same time that babies have vital check-ups.

Mary Broddle, now 45, pictured with her baby Leo, lost more than a liter of blood during childbirth. The Nottingham mother-of-two developed severe anemia that went undetected until 18 months later.

Professor Debra Bick, a maternal health expert at Warwick’s Clinical Trials Unit, says “there is no medical reason why women’s postnatal check-ups should end at this point”, calling it “a historical anomaly”.

Doctors, physical therapists and women’s health advocates calling for the change say the new checkup should include an evaluation for mental health and for problems with incontinence or sexual function, a pelvic health exam and blood tests.

Lyanne Nicholl, a postnatal health activist and author of Your Postnatal Body, says: ‘The six-week checkup is too soon after birth, when many women are concentrating on their baby. Even if women do raise health concerns, they are often wrongly told that it’s normal after having a baby or to wait and see if things get better.’

She wants the checks to include specific checks for women who experienced pregnancy conditions such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, a life-threatening complication that causes high blood pressure, as these can be harbingers of long-term problems.

“Nine months is an ideal time to register,” she adds, “as many women are looking to return to work and the baby may be old enough for someone else to care for it, so the mother can attend on her own and focus on her own Health.

I went back to work with severe anemia.

One mother who would have benefited from a checkup at nine months is Mary Broddle, now 45.

The Nottingham embroidery tutor lost more than a liter of blood after giving birth to her second child, Leo, and developed severe iron deficiency anemia, which can weaken the immune system and lead to heart problems.

Mary assumed that her tiredness and pale skin were due to the stress of caring for a baby and her eldest son, Robin, and did not mention her symptoms at her six-week check-up with her GP.

Mary, then an engineer, went back to work when her son was nine months old and she was so tired she was afraid she would crash her car. Leo was 18 months old when she finally booked an appointment with her GP and was diagnosed. “If they had checked me when I got back to work, they would have seen that my iron levels hadn’t gone back up,” he says. ‘I could have been given strong iron tablets, which would have made me feel better.’

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A report from the University of Oxford, published this month, highlighted how more than half of maternal deaths between 2018 and 2020 occurred between six weeks and one year after birth. Nearly a third were related to psychiatric problems or related to heart disease.

Dr Eloise Elphinstone, a women’s health GP, believes that many problems are missed at the six-week checkup because they haven’t yet become apparent. These include pelvic floor dysfunction, such as problems with the muscles that help control bladder function.

“Often, women don’t bring up topics like incontinence because it can be embarrassing or they don’t think it’s important,” says Dr. Elphinstone. “However, a weak pelvic floor can lead to bladder and bowel problems, which can affect daily function and exercise, which, in itself, can affect mental health.”

Figures from the NHS show that one in three women experience incontinence in the year after birth and one in four continue to have problems for at least 12 years afterward.

“A nine-month checkup could be very beneficial in helping to identify any problems so that women can be referred to a physio to prevent long-term continence problems,” Dr. Elphinstone told the Mother Bodies postnatal health podcast. . Campaigners say the current six-week check-up is also inadequate for the one in 50 women with serious birth injuries, such as tears in the anus or intestine, where initial recovery takes up to six months.

“Evaluation at a later date would give doctors a more accurate picture of recovery, and if there are longer-term symptoms, such as prolapse or sexual dysfunction, a care plan can be put in place,” says Jen Hall, of the birth injury support charity. The MASIC Foundation adds that it listens to women who have waited three or more years before receiving help.

It can also take months for post-traumatic stress disorder to develop, caused by a difficult birth.

Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at childbirth charity NCT, also backs calls for the nine-month check, but warns that many women need support before then.

Nikki Wilson, chief executive of the Make Birth Better charity, says: “Research shows that the symptoms of some mental health problems tend to develop between one and six months after birth, by which time most people have been fired for [postnatal] services.’ She believes the existing six-week check is “very baby-focused” and that mothers’ health concerns are often overlooked.

Kim Thomas, executive director of the Birth Trauma Association, says there would also be financial benefits. “If you can address problems at an early stage, you could avoid costs to the NHS later on,” she says.

Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at childbirth charity NCT, also backs calls for the nine-month check, but warns that many women need support before then.

“If women are experiencing symptoms, they should never watch and wait,” adds Lucia Berry, of POGP, an organization representing pelvic, obstetric and gynecologic physiotherapists.

  • Rosie Taylor’s Mother Bodies podcast is now available on all podcast players.

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