Appropriately named the six-week postpartum checkup, this appointment aims to check if your body has recovered from pregnancy and birth.
The first few weeks after giving birth
After giving birth, your body will gradually recover from pregnancy and the delivery itself. The length of the postpartum recovery process will depend on how the birth went, whether it was a vaginal delivery or a cesarean section and whether or not there where any complications during the birth. With an uncomplicated vaginal birth, new moms will still have quite a few annoying and sometimes painful postpartum symptoms. Vaginal tears or an episiotomy may hurt (especially when urinating), you may experience painful postpartum contractions, your abdomen will be sore, your breasts will be tender and you may deal with some engorgement. Lochia, the postpartum bleeding that continues for around a month, will mean you'll have to wear those huge maternity pads. Afterwards vaginal discharge will decrease in amount, but it will probably last for a about 10 days.
With a c-section, the incision will be healing slowly, and will give you some pain in addition. Generally, feeling like a normal and functional human again will take between two and eight weeks, depending on your mode of delivery (vaginal vs c-section), your health, and how you treat your body after birth. Most women will be feeling just fine again by the time the six-week postpartum checkup comes along. Right when you've got that appointment scheduled, you're probably thinking that you won't need your OBGYN or midwife at all, until your next pregnancy perhaps. Sure, most new moms will have tons of questions about their baby and his or her development but that's for the pediatrician and not for the person who provided you with prenatal care and probably delivered your baby.
About the six-week postpartum visit
The six-week postpartum checkup is timed to allow your body to heal, so that the healthcare provider can see whether that is happening correctly. Most women will go to an OBGYN for their postpartum visit, though those who had midwifery care throughout their pregnancy will normally see their own midwife. It is also possible to see a family doctor. What will happen during the postpartum visit? Your healthcare provider will probably ask you how you are feeling, and whether you have any particular problems you want to discuss. Some doctors will do that part at the end, and perform a physical examination first. In any case, a pelvic exam will be done to check whether your uterus has (nearly) returned to its non-pregnant size.
A vaginal exam will check whether any tears or episiotomy (surgical cut) you had during your labor healed OK, and whether there are any other problems. Those women who have birth by c-section will have their incision checked and will get advise about how much physical activity is OK. A good healthcare provider will also check the thyroid gland to see if you are having any thyroid problems, and will screen for signs of postpartum depression and offer you the right counseling even if you're not showing any symptoms. Finally, birth control will be on the agenda during these visits.
Women going for their postpartum checkup should think about what they want in advance, though saying that you want to think about it for a while, or that you decline to have any birth control is perfectly fine too. If your doctor works in a conveyor belt fashion, the visit will be over and done with within five minutes. If you have a midwife or a doctor who is committed to providing personal care, your visit will probably last a little longer and you will have plenty of chance to ask questions.
Do you need the postpartum checkup?
Many parenting books and magazines mention the postpartum checkup in such a routine manner that you start to wonder if there's any way you can just not go. "Your postpartum visit will...", and "you will have your postpartum checkup at" are common phrases. But is the postpartum checkup really necessary? The answer is yes if you had a c-section, are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, or think something else is not going quite right. Personally, I believe that women who have problems after their birth will notice that just fine by themselves, in which case they would seek medical attention. I didn't personally attend six-week postpartum visits, because I had no problems. Having said that, many new mothers find these appointments reassuring and will be more confident that everything is OK with their body when their doctor says so.