Giving birth to a child is a life-changing experience, and for new mothers it is both a wonderful and anxious time.
During pregnancy, most women get all kinds of advice and tips from friends, family and medical professionals, all of whom want her to be as healthy as possible while bringing the baby to term.
But following the birth, most of the focus shifts away from the mother and onto the newborn child.
This is understandable, because physicians and care teams need to keep close tabs on the health of the baby. But new mothers have a range of health concerns as well, and often have many questions about their own recovery after giving birth.
In America, we do not do a good enough job of taking care of new mothers, and many providers have not properly trained their front-line staff on how to spot warning signs of a possible medical complication. We need to get better at this.
To that end, GetWell Loop has developed care plans specifically for women who are in the postpartum phase, and by enabling daily dialogue we are able to give new mothers the information they need and ensure they are recovering properly from giving birth.
My husband and I had our first child—a boy—in May of 2016.
This was a very happy time for us, and during my pregnancy I got advice from physicians, family and friends about what to expect and how to stay healthy. I had no shortage of people to talk to about my rapidly changing body.
When my son was born, I had experiences that many new mothers do: I experienced bleeding, a lack of sleep and pain during feedings.
While I knew that many of these symptoms are common, I still had questions after bringing my son home from the hospital. I wondered if I might be bleeding more than the normal amount, and I wondered when the pain of daily feedings would subside.
Most follow-up appointments with the physician were all about my son, so I turned to Google and online communities to try to get my questions answered. It would have been nice if my provider was using a patient engagement solution, so I could have had a single, trusted source for these answers.
My son and I are both healthy, and I am thankful for that. But many women who have given birth are not as lucky.
Postpartum care in America
An estimated 700 to 900 women die in the U.S. every year from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes. Some 60% of these deaths are preventable, according to the CDC Foundation. The maternal mortality rate has been on the rise in the U.S., and our country has the highest rate of any developed, affluent country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 65,000 women in the U.S. experience life-threatening complications in childbirth or afterward. This is sometimes because nurses and other care team members have not been properly trained on how to spot and prevent complications in new mothers.
Researchers published a study this year after interviewing 372 postpartum nurses nationwide. The study found that many were not well-informed about the dangers mothers face after giving birth. These nurses were not able to properly educate new mothers about painful swelling, headaches, heavy bleeding, and breathing problems that can be signs of dangerous complications.
Various initiatives are under way now to properly train front-line staff on the health conditions that can easily lead to dangerous complications for new mothers, and providers are making progress in remedying the problem.
But new mothers still need a trusted source of information they can turn to when they have questions.
How patient engagement can help
New mothers have questions about the physical changes they are experiencing, and what they need is an open line of communication with their healthcare provider.
With GetWell Loop, we provide that by offering specific care plans created by physicians, and are designed to set new mothers’ expectations and help them monitor for symptoms that could be indicative of complications, including fever, heavy bleeding and painful swelling. Postpartum depression is also a problem for some women, so we tailor questions specifically to gather information about a new mother’s emotional state.
I know from experience that new mothers frequently wonder if their recovery from childbirth is on track, and whether certain symptoms or emotions are within the normal ranges for women who have recently had a child.
Using empathetic, daily dialogue, GetWell Loop provides women the information they need, and learns from them whether any complications are developing that would necessitate a return trip to the hospital.
Postpartum care is improving
Though the U.S. has a relatively high maternal mortality rate and a rate of dangerous complications following childbirth that is far higher than it should be, healthcare providers nationwide have been taking steps to improve postpartum care for women.
New tools — including a checklist and script that nurses can follow when instructing new mothers, as well as a one-page handout of post-birth warning signs for new mothers to be on the lookout for — are in wide use today, and should have a positive impact.
However, providers should also be using technologies that facilitate daily engagement with mothers in the months after they give birth and return home from the hospital. Checklists and scripts are valuable tools, but they need to be constantly updated with new information as a woman progresses through recovery.
Patient engagement has been shown to dramatically reduce medical complications of all kinds, and reduce readmissions to the hospital after discharge. It can also prevent small health problems from growing into dangerous complications.
Providers who have committed to improving postpartum care for women should make sure that daily patient engagement is one of tools in their toolbox.