The World Health Organization (WHO) released Wednesday its first global guidance to support women and neonates in the first six weeks after birth, the postpartum period.
The new WHO guidelines underscore the urgency of physical and mental health support in the postnatal period, which, according to the organization, is a pivotal time for guaranteeing the newborn's and mother's survival and for supporting the baby's healthy development, as well as the mother's overall mental and physical recovery and well-being.
These guidelines include 63 recommendations that include a combination of relevant existing ones and 31 additional new ones or updated ones. They now constitute the official WHO benchmarks for all aspects related to postnatal care. These recommendations supplement a trilogy of WHO guidelines on quality maternal care throughout pregnancy and during and after childbirth. They advocate the right to a positive pregnancy experience, in which people are treated with both dignity and respect and can actively engage in health care decision-making.
The recommendations specify the minimum length of stay in the hospital after delivery and guide discharge procedures. However, they emphasize that the time needed will depend on the individual woman and baby, the social context, the birth experience, and any health problems. The organization said that the first few weeks after childbirth are fundamental for establishing relationships and behaviors that affect the baby's long-term development and health.
WHO strongly recommends high-quality facility-based care for all women and infants for at least 24 hours after childbirth, with at least three additional postnatal controls in the first six weeks. In addition to measures to identify and respond to danger signs that require urgent medical attention for both the woman and the baby. Ensuring treatment, support, and counseling to aid recovery and handle common postpartum issues that women may experience, such as perineal pain and breast engorgement, was also a WHO recommendation.
According to WHO, more than 3 out of 10 women and babies worldwide now receive no postnatal care in the first few days after childbirth, when most maternal and infant deaths occur. The organization added that childbirth's physical and emotional consequences could weaken if not correctly managed but are often easily treatable in case of providing the proper care at the opportune time.
Dr. Anshu Banerjee, Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at WHO, said it is necessary to guarantee high-quality maternity and newborn care in the weeks after childbirth. "Indeed, the birth of a baby is a life-changing moment, one that is bound by love, hope and excitement, but it can also cause unprecedented stress and anxiety. Parents need strong health care and support systems, especially women, whose needs are too often neglected when the baby comes", he said.
Mercedes Bonet, Medical Officer in WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said it is well documented that women and their families want and need a positive postnatal experience to help them cope with the significant physical and emotional challenges that arise once their babies are born while seeking to strengthen their confidence as parents.