NCT & Netmums research finds the six week postnatal check-up unsatisfactory

Released on: 06 October 2014

Research from NCT and Netmums finds almost half (45%) of UK mums feel their six week postnatal check-up was not thorough enough.

The survey, which polled over 4,000 women, revealed that 26% of women felt their check was rushed; with a fifth of check-ups (19.4%) lasting less than five minutes; and 7% admitting they wanted to talk about how they were feeling but there wasn’t time. 

29% of women said their GP did not ask them about any emotional or mental health issues. And 22% of women admitted they were not truthful during the appointment but put a brave face on to hide how they really felt. 43% said their GP did not understand their background or any of their babies’ special circumstances. 

The six week postnatal check-up is a patient-centred appointment to ensure new mums are recovering emotionally and physically. It is also an opportunity for mothers to ask any questions and sort out any problems they may have after giving birth.*

Belinda Phipps, CEO of the UK's largest parent charity, NCT said:

“The six week postnatal check-up is a key opportunity to spot potential problems for new mums. Problems such as postnatal depression can develop from this stage, as well as other physical and psychological disorders, so it is worrying that almost a third of women were not even asked about how they felt. Identification early on is crucial.”

“We need to ensure that GPs are aware of the right questions to ask, to be asking them directly and acting promptly in response when necessary. If a GP or midwife has concerns about a woman with a new baby, they need to have a robust referral system in place.”

Cathy Ranson, Editor in Chief of the UK's biggest parenting site Netmums said:

"The six week check is a vital safety net for new mums - but this study shows this system isn't working. With almost half of new mothers not feeling their check was thorough enough and a worrying 22 per cent hiding their true feelings because they’re feeling rushed, it shows that doctors need to be allowed to spend more time to get to the truth with new mums.

"Investing a little more time and money in the check could potentially pick up serious emotional and psychological issues much earlier, saving the NHS millions in treatment costs later down the line.”

 Other key findings:

  • 20% of parents said their check lasted up to five minutes, and 36% said it lasted between five and 10 minutes.
  • 33% did not know what to expect at the check (for example, because their midwife did not tell them). 20% said their GP and midwife told them different things about what to expect in their postnatal check. 
  • There was a lack of consistency in questions asked at the appointments: Only 11% of women had their urine tested; 56% of women had their blood pressure tested; 46% were asked about periods and vaginal discharge.
  • Of those that did not have a 6 week check, 20% said they weren’t aware of the check and 57% said that looking back, they wish they could have attended a six week check.

Professor Debra Bick, Professor of Evidence Based Midwifery Practice at King’s College London said:

‘’Sadly, these findings are not surprising. Studies conducted over the last two decades found a wide range of postnatal physical and mental health problems, some of which persisted for months or even years after the birth.  A six to eight week check-up is an important opportunity to identify how women are feeling physically and mentally and ensure those who may benefit from longer follow-up continue to receive the care they need’’. 

‘’These findings add further evidence to the need to ensure all women are offered postnatal care which is individualised and tailored to their needs. We have the evidence. Consideration now needs to be given to the potential to revise the content and timing of postnatal services if longer-term cost savings for the NHS are to be achieved and the health and well-being of women and their infants promoted.’’ 

For more information please visit www.nct.org.uk/sixweekcheck or www.netmums.com/baby

 

NOTES TO EDITOR

*The six week check is an opportunity to discuss any developing signs of postnatal depression. NICE states: The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued standards to improve the quality of care and support for women and their babies in the postnatal period. Postnatal care should address the needs of the mother and her baby in the six to eight week period following childbirth. For most women, babies and their families, this time is uncomplicated, but for some who have developed complications, care during this period must be tailored in order to meet their specific needs. 

According to the NHS , during a six week postnatal check-up women should expect:

  • to be weighed and receive weight loss advice if needed
  • to have their urine tested to make sure their kidneys are working properly and that they haven't got an infection
  • their blood pressure to be checked
  • to be offered an examination to see if their stitches have healed (if they had any), and that all the muscles used during labour and delivery are returning to normal
  • their doctor may discuss carrying out a cervical screening test (smear test) if the woman has not had one in the past three years – the test won't usually take place until three months after delivery
  • if not immune to rubella (German measles) and were not given an immunisation before they left hospital, they will be offered one
  • to be asked if they still have any vaginal discharge and whether they have had a period since the birth
  • Breasts probably won't be examined unless the woman has a particular concern about them

About the survey:

The survey was run by Survey Monkey, on behalf of the NCT and Netmums, between 22 – 29 July 2014. 4,087 women across the UK took part in the survey.