What Is the 6-Week Postpartum Checkup?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 19, 2022
5 min read

What is a postpartum appointment? 

You may expect that your prenatal visits are over by now, but you’ve got one last pregnancy-related appointment to attend: the 6-week postpartum checkup. This appointment gives your doctor or nurse-midwife a chance to check on your body’s healing progress — and it gives you the opportunity to ask important questions related to your postpartum physical and mental health.

Many women mistakenly assume that this appointment is just a formality, and they end up not getting the postpartum care they need. Learn why this checkup matters and understand how to prepare yourself for it.

After completing nine months of pregnancy and the recommended prenatal care appointments, blood tests, and ultrasounds along the way, you’re probably wondering why you need yet another doctor’s visit. However, even though you’ve already given birth, your body is still adjusting to the state of not being pregnant. 

If you're wondering "can I skip my 6-week postpartum appointment," you're not alone, but there are many good reasons to attend this visit. There are several hormonal changes, as well as physical, mental, and emotional ones, that your body will go through during this time. In fact, the three months after you give birth are often referred to as the "fourth trimester" because they're so intensely linked with the pregnancy you’ve just completed. 

At this appointment, your body has healed enough that your doctor can perform a pelvic exam, discuss future family planning or birth control options with you, and ask about your mental and emotional health.

What to expect at the postpartum checkup is similar for most healthy women. Ideally, your doctor will check in with you physically, mentally, and emotionally. While certain issues like mild sleep deprivation, aches and pains, and having the "baby blues" are normal, some postpartum issues are a cause for concern. 

At this point, you might be experiencing some or all of the following issues. Your doctor will probably ask you about these topics at your 6-week postpartum appointment:

  • Your mood: Experiencing the baby blues, or a period in which you have mood swings and don’t quite feel like yourself, is normal. Feeling depressed, anxious, or worrying about your newborn to the point of obsession is not.
  • Your sleep: Having difficulty sleeping because you know your baby is going to wake up crying in two hours is normal. Developing insomnia, where you can’t fall or stay asleep even if you’re exhausted, is not.
  • Your vaginal discharge: Bleeding and cramping for the first few days after giving birth is normal, while extreme pain and heavy bleeding beyond 10 days is not. You’re just bleeding out any tissue that your uterus no longer needs to grow a baby, and you’re cramping because you’re experiencing “afterpains”, which are contractions that help your uterus shrink back to normal.

Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is good for you and your baby — but the act itself isn’t always challenge-free. For some people, breastfeeding can be very difficult.

While your baby’s pediatrician is best able to advise you on whether or not your child is getting enough milk and nutrients, your own doctor will be able to determine whether you’re having difficulty breastfeeding because of a problem with your breasts. These issues might include infection, hormonal difficulties, or plugged and painful milk ducts.

Sexual health. Your sex life might look very different than before, and you might feel anxious, stressed, or upset about this. Bring up your concerns at this appointment to get your doctor’s take on what’s going on. It’s common to not be “in the mood” as much as you were before having a baby. It’s also normal for sex not to feel like it used to due to vaginal changes, stitches, or scarring.

You don't have to suffer through painful sex. If you're experiencing that, you may be dealing with dryness in your vagina, pelvic pain after birth, or emotional factors that can get in the way of your sex life. Speak up if you have issues that you want to see addressed. You’re hardly alone in feeling this way. 

Family planning. Did you know that it’s better to wait at least 18 months to get pregnant again after you’ve given birth — even if you want a large family? This waiting period helps your body to heal, store nutrients, and become fully ready to support a new life. 

Without a reliable method of birth control and a plan in place, though, you might get pregnant sooner than you want. You might want to talk to your doctor about whether or not you want more kids, how far apart you wish to space them, and what your postpartum birth control options are. For example, you may choose to take a birth control pill, make an appointment for the insertion of an intrauterine device (IUD), or opt not to use hormonal birth control at all. 

It’s best to note that no birth control method is foolproof and that some work better than others. Be sure to speak to your doctor about what’s right for your body and your future plans.

Connecting with support. You know by now that parenting is far from easy, and your 6-week postpartum checkup is a great opportunity to ask for help. You might want to speak with a lactation consultant, a nutritionist, a mental health counselor, or a place in your community that helps women find resources for themselves and their newborns.

You don’t have to wait until the 6-week checkup if you’re really struggling during the postpartum period. Get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible in the following situations:

  • You have unexplained pain or bleeding.
  • You’re having trouble with vaginal stitches or c-section incision sites.
  • You’re not able to breastfeed your baby even though you want to because your milk isn’t coming in.
  • Your breasts feel sore and swollen, and you have a fever.
  • Your mood swings are scaring you.
  • You're experiencing strange symptoms that don’t seem like normal postpartum issues.

One of the best things you can do for your baby is to take care of your own needs. Don’t forget to attend this important 6-week postpartum checkup appointment to ensure that you’re at your best after having a baby.