We talk a lot about the ups and downs of pregnancy and giving birth. But what about what comes next for the birthing parent? The postpartum period, from birth to six to eight weeks, is a critical time of adjustment as parents adjust to life with a new baby. Postpartum care for new parents is a vital, but often neglected, step in their journey.
Globally, postpartum care is systemically overlooked. Worldwide, more than three in ten women and babies do not receive postnatal care in the days after birth. Globally, the amount of time that women are guaranteed mandated maternity leave ranges drastically, from no national paid prenatal leave in the U.S. to eight weeks in Japan to 18 weeks in Australia. As you can see, where you give birth and the culture of postpartum care can have a huge impact on recovery and health outcomes for both birthing parents and babies. Let’s learn what postpartum care and culture look like around the world, specifically in Japan, the U.K., and India.
Postpartum care in Japan
The postpartum period in Japan is often one of rest and rehabilitation for birthing parents after labor. Dr. Hiroshi Takenaka, a Maven OB-GYN based in Tokyo, explains that after giving birth, birthing parents typically spend five to seven days in the hospital for a vaginal delivery with no complications. And with the childbirth allowance from the Japanese health insurance system, women enrolled will receive a lump sum to cover the cost of giving birth. “The labor, delivery, and postpartum care is virtually free in Japan,” says Dr. Takenaka.
After they leave the hospital, new parents will do at least one postpartum check-up with their doctor two weeks after giving birth and will also meet with public services nurses and midwives at least twice. Public health centers are an important part of the postpartum culture in Japan, but they are less available in rural areas, creating a location-based barrier to some postpartum care services.
The confinement period in Japan
In Japan, birthing parents will often stay with their parents for at least one month after their baby is born. This time is called the “confinement period,” a tradition where new parents stay inside for 100 days postpartum, but has more recently been shortened to one month. “The parents take care of the new mother as well as the newborn,” explains Dr. Takenaka. The purpose of this tradition is to honor the parent and newborn’s need for rest and bonding, giving birthing parents much-needed time for recovery.
Even with this support, many birthing parents feel overwhelmed and unprepared for the stress of postpartum. “So much of the preparation during pregnancy is focused on labor and delivery. It doesn’t focus enough on the mother’s experience of postpartum, but rather on the baby,” explains Dr. Takenaka. “That’s one of the gaps we have in the medical institutions, as well as in society.”
Postpartum mental health in Japan
A 2020 study found 15% of Japanese women experience postpartum depression one month after giving birth. “After the first month, mothers don’t have as much contact with the medical institution,” says Dr. Takenaka. So even if they’re suffering from mental health issues, they may not reach out to get help.” New parents may not have the energy to seek care or may feel they should put their baby first before themselves.
Access to on-demand, 24/7 digital health services like Maven can ensure that postpartum women can address their own needs while also caring for their new child. “Maven can support and complement the existing medical system with helpful advice for women in the postpartum period,” says Dr. Takenaka. Maven ensures that no matter what care they need, new parents in Japan have access to specialized care for themselves and their families.
Postpartum care in the U.K.
The caregivers who work with you during and after pregnancy can make a big difference. In the U.K., midwives are a highly regarded and trusted support system in pregnancy and postpartum care. All planned births in the U.K. are attended by midwives, and after labor midwives help new parents learn how to care for their babies. Gillian Lockhart, a Maven midwife based in Scotland, has seen how postpartum care has changed in the U.K. throughout her career. When Lockhart began midwifery, women stayed in the hospital for days after birth and could sit with other breastfeeding mothers, forming a community with other new parents. Now, mothers in the U.K. are sent home from the hospital after childbirth more quickly than in most high-income countries. While research suggests that shorter postnatal in-patient care can still be effective and safe, Lockhart believes that less time in the hospital is leading to less community support and education for new parents in those critical first days. “Today, what you’d be looking at with a vaginal birth without complications would be a discharge from six hours to a day after birth, and then you’re home,” Lockhart explains. “Then your midwife will visit you at home probably about three to four times.”
Midwives will use these visits to discuss how feeding is going, assess your baby’s health, and check in with how you’re doing. An essential part of the midwives’ role during the at-home visits is screening for postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety and providing additional mental health support if necessary. This access to midwives and other providers is essential for new parents with urgent questions. “The midwife in the UK is a one-stop shop for everything,” explains Lockhart. “That’s why people have such close relationships with their midwives.”
If you’re looking for more specialized care or telehealth support, Maven can be a source of community and reassurance. “Maven is so good because members can get to know their providers and the providers can pop up virtually in their living room,” explains Lockhart. Whether members need help with breastfeeding, sleep training, or the emotional rollercoaster of new parenthood, Maven has midwives and other specialty providers available 24/7, as well as online community support groups.
Postpartum care in India
In India, the days following birth are a sacred time for rest and recovery. Most families in India still prefer to give birth at home. But those who do go to the hospital leave three days after birth, with half of new parents discharged before 48 hours. After returning home with a new baby, Indian families have a postpartum confinement period of around 40 days. “Postnatal care is something that plays a big role in India,” explains Thiruvananthapuram-based Maven OB-GYN Dr. Niranjana Jayakrishnan. “In my state, Kerala, which is famous for Ayurvedic therapy, women undergo post-delivery care under trained Ayurveda masseurs for a period of 6 weeks. This care enables them to recuperate better and faster.” The focus of the postpartum massage is generally on the birthing person, but the masseurs also teach the birthing parent and their partner to give the new baby massages to build strength.
Postpartum mental health in India
In India, about 22% of mothers suffer from postpartum depression. “Postpartum mental health is something we need to focus on,” says Dr. Jayakrishnan. “Once the baby is born, the mother’s mental health is not given much attention.” Postpartum mental health issues like postpartum depression and anxiety are on the rise in India, with few specialists focused specifically on mental health and limited screening for postpartum depression and anxiety. A great start in addressing this is access to virtual mental health services like Maven, giving new parents a chance to fill a gap in their care.
Maven’s telehealth network provides members in India with unlimited access to providers who truly understand their health concerns and symptoms during the postpartum period. “Maven provides a platform where the expecting mother can access a doctor, nutritionist, mental health provider, Care Advocate, or more at the touch of a button,” explains Dr. Jayakrishnan. For people in India looking for more comprehensive postpartum care, virtual appointments with Indian specialists who provide culturally-humble care are a powerful way to support parents through the critical postpartum period.
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