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September 24, 2019
Reviewed by Kimberly Langdon M.D.
The vast majority of births in the US are attended by a physician, who then handles the postpartum care as well. Generally, this includes one check-up around six weeks postpartum. If you had any pregnancy complications, your doctor may want to see you earlier, and if you had a cesarean birth, you may see your provider around 2 weeks postpartum to check on your c-section incision. Otherwise, the expectation is just one visit at 6 weeks. It can be a little shocking to go from frequent prenatal visits to just one after giving birth, so we’ll walk you through how to get the most out of it.
The visit may start with a postpartum depression screen, where you fill out a questionnaire about how you’re feeling emotionally. The standard is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and you can find it here, if you’d like to fill it out ahead of time to discuss with your doctor.
The main part of the visit is the physical exam. In addition to checking your blood pressure and weight, your doctor will also examine your uterus and vagina. Your uterus generally takes 6 weeks to return to its pre-pregnancy size, so that’s one of the things they’re checking for. Also, if you had an episiotomy or any tearing, they’ll make sure the cut is healing well.
If so, they will likely give you the green light to resume sex (it’s not recommended before this). However, this just means that it’s safe to have sex, but you can and should wait until you’re ready physically and emotionally.
Another conversation that is expected at this visit is about contraception. It’s a great time to ask questions and make a plan. Depending on your birth control method of choice and breastfeeding plans, it can be the right time to start, since you’ll want to be sure that it’s effective before you start having sex again. Just because your period hasn’t started yet doesn’t mean that you can’t get pregnant.
Related: All about postpartum birth control
While the majority of births are attended by a physician (90% in the US), the other 10 percent are attended by a midwife, usually a certified nurse-midwife (CNM). The standard of a 6-week check-up applies to CNMs as well, but they are more likely to include more frequent visits. Also, midwives are more likely to do home visits for postpartum care. While home visits are the norm in northern and eastern Europe, they are generally less common in the US.
If you’re only expecting to see your doctor once after birth, you’ll want to be sure to cover all the bases at the visit. Here are some ways to prepare:
While the 6-week check-up is currently the norm, changes are coming. In April 2018, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a new recommendation for postpartum care. The new recommended strategy is for ongoing care over the first 12 weeks postpartum, including contact within the first 3 weeks. It may take a while for insurance companies to catch up, so in the meantime, don’t hesitate to see your doctor outside of the 6-week check-up if anything looks or feels off.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2018). ACOG Redesigns Postpartum Care. Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/About-ACOG/News-Room/News-Releases/2018/ACOG-Redesigns-Postpartum-Care?IsMobileSet=false
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). National Vital Statistics Reports Volume 67, Number 1, January 31, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr67/nvsr67_01_tables.pdf
March of Dimes. Your postpartum checkups. Retrieved on September 20, 2019 from
Handler, A., Caskey, R., Rankin, K., Haider, S. (2015). Postpartum Visit and Contraception Study. Retrieved from
Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine and then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Recently, she founded a medical device start-up company that focuses on non-drug treatment for common maladies.
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