What do mothers need in the postnatal period?

The World Health Organization defines the postnatal phase as beginning immediately after the birth of the baby and extending for up to six weeks or 42 days after birth. After the pregnancy and labour mothers start to adapt to parenthood and create secure attachments to their newborns. The #postnatal phase is a period of significant transition characterised by changes in self-identity, the redefinition of relationships, opportunities for personal growth and alterations to sexual behaviour as women adjust to the ‘new normal’ in their own cultural context.

However, mothers, as well as newborns, need special postnatal care in order to prevent fatal or unwanted events. The postnatal period is a neglected phase of maternity care with more emphasis and resources placed on antenatal and intrapartum care.


In terms of care provision, the postnatal period tends to be divided into the immediate or first 24h, early or 2–7 days and late, 8–42 days periods. In the immediate phase, postnatal care is a facility based in many settings and focused on key clinical indicators for the baby and monitoring of general well-being for the mother. Whereas, the second phase or early period as well as the late postnatal care are usually community-based and focused on maximizing maternal and newborn health and wellbeing.

Women in the postnatal period struggle to come to terms with the physical and psychological impact of childbirth such as negative feelings associated with their post-birth body image. They also face a lack of opportunity to process associated feelings. To cope with this period of adjustment women express the need for practical, emotional and psychological support from family members, peer groups and online sources, as well as from health providers.

Women value breastfeeding and want support to be available. However, they often find the practical reality of breastfeeding at odds with their expectations and experience anxiety, frustration and sometimes pain in their attempts to establish the practice.


They also have to deal with a variety of different sex-related issues in the postnatal period and would like more information from health professionals, particularly about when to resume sex and access contraceptive resources.


Most women greatly value the multiple levels of support they receive from their partner, parents and, in certain contexts, community elders. Women appreciate practical help with the baby’s care needs and household tasks as well as emotional support for them to deal with the myriad of emotions that arise during the postnatal period.


In conclusion, women want to feel ‘cared for’ during that period as they navigate the transition to motherhood and recovery from labour and birth.

Source: What matters to women in the postnatal period
Kenneth Finlayson 2020
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