What is the postnatal check?
The postnatal or six-week check is an appointment with your family doctor, during which she'll make sure that your baby is healthy and growing well. The check takes place between six and eight weeks after your baby's birth.
In some areas of the UK, your local surgery will automatically send you an appointment. In other areas, you may need to phone to book it yourself. Some surgeries may not offer a postnatal check any more, and your baby’s check may be merged into his eight-week vaccinations appointment.
If you are unsure whether your surgery offers a postnatal check, then do ask. If your surgery no longer offers the check, and you feel the need to see your GP, book an appointment anyway. If you have any particular concerns, you could request a double appointment.
The six-week check is part of the NHS Newborn and Infant Physical Examination programme. It's an essential part of the Department of Health’s Healthy Child Programme. It is a chance for your baby to have a physical assessment and a review of his development so far.
But it's also a chance for you to discuss with your doctor any physical or emotional problems you may be having. Your GP is there to support you as you adjust to being a new mum.
What checks will my baby have?
Your doctor will check that your baby is growing healthily by carrying out a series of examinations. She should explain what she is doing and tell you the results.
Recording key information, such as your baby's weight, in your baby's red book, which is his personal health record.
Make notes in your baby's red book for the health visitor to follow up. It's a helpful way for your GP and health visitor to communicate with each other.
Check that your baby's heart, lungs, spine and genitals are all developing as they should.
Check that the newborn hearing check has been completed and that the result was normal.
Looking to see if your baby is smiling and if he can focus on an object and follow it with his eyes.
Listen to check that he is cooing, gurgling and crying as expected for his age.
What will my GP talk about at the check?
The six-week check is a good time for you, your partner and your doctor to talk about any worries you may have. Your GP may check that your baby is booked in for his first set of immunisations. Now is the time to say if you have any questions or concerns about vaccination.
If you are worried about SIDS (cot death) your doctor can tell you how to reduce the risk. For example, it is important to put your baby to sleep on his back, and to make sure there are no smokers in your home.
Your baby may have spots on his face. Many babies do at this age, as some hormones from mum are still in their bodies. But ask your GP to check it out if you are anxious.
Your baby may have started to be colicky by six weeks. In most cases, it's hard to pin down the reason a baby has colic, but your doctor can help to exclude some known causes, such as lactose intolerance. If your baby does have colic, your doctor may be able to offer you advice on how to soothe him.
You may also want to talk about breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.
Some problems should not be left until the six-week check. For example, a rash that does not fade when you press a glass on it (non-blanching rash) is a sign of meningitis, which needs immediate medical care.
Will I have any tests?
There are no set guidelines in the UK for what a postnatal check of mums should involve, only guidelines for a baby’s six-to-eight-week check. This is why not all surgeries offer a postnatal check that caters for mums.
As a guideline, the following information explains what may be covered in a postnatal check, depending on where you live. You can make the most of your appointment by making a list in advance of any questions you may have.
Your doctor may take your blood pressure and feel your tummy to make sure that your womb (uterus) has contracted down properly. She may weigh you and advise you about ways of losing any weight you've gained during pregnancy.
She may examine you further if you are worried about:
Your doctor may follow up any screening or blood tests you are due, such as:
A blood test to check your iron levels, if you've been anaemic.
Advising you about booking a cervical smear, if you're due one, for about three months after the birth.
Rubella immunisation, although most women in the UK have already had the vaccination.
You may be experiencing incontinence, which is making it hard to control your wee. Or you may have constipation and be worried about not going to the toilet enough.
Your doctor may ask you about your baby's birth and how you feel about it. She may also check that you're getting enough help from friends and family. Now is the time to raise any unanswered questions that have been troubling you. And do say if you've been feeling anxious or low or having problems sleeping.
Your health visitor will also make a separate home visit between six weeks and eight weeks to check on your wellbeing.