The World Health Organisation says the quality care for women and newborns is critical in the first weeks after childbirth and stresses the urgency of both physical and mental health support in the postnatal period.
WHO yesterday launched its first-ever global guidelines to support women and newborns in the postnatal period – the first six weeks after birth-deeming it a life-threatening time for safeguarding newborn and maternal survival and for supporting the healthy development of the baby as well as the mother’s overall mental and physical recovery and wellbeing.
“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,” said Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at WHO.
Banerjee stressed the need for quality maternity and newborn care, adding that it does not stop once a baby is born.
“Parents need strong healthcare and support systems, especially women, whose needs are too often neglected when the baby comes,” he stated.
Banerjee said: “In addition to addressing immediate health concerns, these first weeks after birth are crucial for building relationships and establishing behaviours that affect long-term infant development and healing.”
Among others, the recommendation by the agency responsible for international public health includes high-quality care in health facilities for all women and babies for at least 24 hours after birth, with a minimum of three additional postnatal checkups in the first six weeks.
Screening of all newborns for eye abnormalities and hearing impairment, as well as vaccination at birth and exclusive breastfeeding counselling, access to postnatal contraception and health promotion, including physical activity.
These recommendations complete a trilogy of guidelines from WHO for quality maternity care through pregnancy and during and after childbirth centred on meeting the needs of all those who give birth and their babies. These uphold the rights to a positive healthcare experience, where people are treated with dignity and respect and can participate actively in healthcare decisions.
WHO states that worldwide, more than three in 10 women and babies do not receive postnatal care in the first days after birth - the period when most maternal and infant deaths occur.
Meanwhile, the physical and emotional consequences of childbirth – from injuries to recurring pain and trauma - can be debilitating if unmanaged, but are often highly treatable when the right care is given at the right time.
Namibia’s health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula in an engagement with Vital Signs said despite the fact that the maternal mortality ratio has been increasing over the past 28 years in the country, 88% of pregnant women delivered their babies in a health facility and 87% were assisted by skilled birth attendants.
“To address the challenge of maternal and neonatal deaths, given the fact that most deliveries take place within health facilities, the health ministry implemented potentially high impact interventions such as Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care (EmONC). EmONC focuses on improving skills of doctors and nurses, as well as overall health system strengthening,” informed Shangula.
Over the years, to improve the healthcare system in the country and ultimately ease expectant mothers with deliveries, the ministry, in collaboration with partners, constructed six functional maternity waiting homes, mobile outreach health services, including ANC and postnatal care, were established to cater for hard-to-reach communities.