The World Health Organization (WHO) today released its first-ever global guidelines to support women and newborns during the postnatal period – the first six weeks after birth. This is a crucial period for the survival of the newborn and the mother and for the proper development of the newborn and the overall mental and physical recovery and well-being of the mother.
Globally, more than 3 in 10 women and newborns currently do not receive postnatal care in the first few days after birth – when most maternal and newborn deaths occur. It is during this time that the physical and emotional consequences of childbirth – injury, pain or recurring trauma – can be debilitating if left unaddressed. However, they can often be treated easily when the right care is given at the right time.
“We must continue to provide quality care to the mother and newborn even after delivery. Indeed, the birth of a child is a life changing event. It sparks love, hope, and excitement, but it can also be a source of unprecedented stress and worry. Parents and in particular women, whose needs are too often neglected at the birth of a child, must be able to benefit from strong systems of care and support. “, say it Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director, Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Aging, WHO.
The first few weeks after childbirth are critical for addressing immediate health issues and for building relationships and adopting behaviors that impact long-term infant development and health. The guidelines include breastfeeding recommendations – to facilitate attachment and positioning as breastfeeding is established – and to help parents provide appropriate care for newborns.
In total, the new guidelines include more than 60 recommendations that help women, newborns and families have a positive postnatal experience. Here are a few :
- All women and newborns should receive quality care in health facilities for at least 24 hours after birth, with at least three additional visits during the first six weeks. This should also include home visits, if possible, so that the health worker can facilitate the mother’s return home with her child. In the case of a home birth, the first consultation must take place as soon as possible and no later than 24 hours after the birth.
- How to recognize and act on danger signs requiring urgent medical attention in women or newborns.
- The guidelines address treatment, support and advice that facilitates recovery and management of common problems women may experience after childbirth, such as perineal pain and breast engorgement.
- Screening for eye abnormalities and hearing impairment in all newborns, and vaccination at birth.
- Tips to help families interact with their child and respond to their cues, stay in close contact with them, and provide warmth and comfort.
- Advice on exclusive breastfeeding, information on access to contraception after childbirth and promotion of health, including physical activity.
- Promotion of the partner’s participation, who can, for example, attend consultations, support his partner and take care of the newborn.
- Screening for postpartum depression and anxiety, with referral and support services, if needed.
The recommendations specify the minimum length of hospital stay after birth and include guidance on discharge criteria, but emphasize that the time needed will depend on each woman and child, the social context, the course of childbirth and the possible presence of health problems. Additional consultations are recommended for healthy women and newborns between 48 and 72 hours, between seven and 14 days and during the sixth week after birth. If health risks are identified, further consultations will likely be required, and treatment may be initiated well beyond the first six weeks.
“The data shows that women and their families want and need a positive postpartum experience to overcome the enormous physical and emotional challenges that come after the birth of their child, while gaining confidence in themselves as parents. . Specialized postnatal services should provide essential support for physical and mental health, while helping parents to thrive by providing appropriate care for their child. “, said the DD Mercedes Bonet, physician in the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO and the Special Program of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP).
These recommendations complete a trilogy of WHO guidelines for quality care during pregnancy and during and after childbirth, aimed above all at meeting the needs of all women who give birth and their children. These guidelines uphold the right to care in which people are treated with dignity and respect and can actively participate in decision-making.
The guidelines include 63 recommendations, 31 of which are new or updated. They are now the official WHO reference for all aspects of postnatal care.
WHO guidelines for antenatal care and intrapartum care can be accessed at the addresses below:
WHO recommendations on antenatal care for a positive pregnancy experience
WHO recommendations on intrapartum care for a positive childbirth experience