Before you skip that doctor’s appointment, mama, listen up: New research has found that less than half of new moms make their postartum appointments — and that’s not a stat to celebrate.
The upside is that researchers at Johns Hopkins found that women with pregnancy complications were more likely to see their doctor following delivery, but overall, kept-appointment rates were disappointingly low.
In order to find out why moms were ditching their doctor’s visits, researchers collected data from a commercial health insurance plan and multiple Medicaid insurance plans in Maryland in order to determine different predictors of receiving postpartum primary (and obstetric) care for moms who did and didn’t suffer from pregnancy complications (like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, hypertension and even mellitus). Researchers found that women with pregnancy complications are slightly more likely to develop long-term health issues.
Even though all doctors recommend that new moms schedule postpartum appointments, the study notes that of the 56.6 percent of women with tax-supported Medicaid insurance and 51.7 visited their primary care doctor within a year of delivery. For women who had commercial health insurance, 60 percent of women with complications and 49.6 percent with a complication-free pregnancy made it to the doctor during baby’s first year.
For women on Medicaid, 65 percent of moms with a complicated pregnancy and 61.5 percent with a complication-free pregnancy made it to the doctor within their first three months of new motherhood. Of moms with commercial insurance, 50.8 with a complicated pregnancy and 44.6 with a complication-free pregnancy made it to the doctor during the first three months.
Lead researcher for the study, Wendy Bennett, says, “Women need to understand the importance of a six-week visit to the obstetrician — not only to address concerns and healing after delivery, but also to follow up on possible future health risks, review the pregnancy and make the transition to primary care. Women with pregnancy complications are at higher risk for some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and these visits are an opportunity to assess risks and refer to primary care providers to work on long-term preventive care.”
So how can medical providers get more moms to make — and keep — their doctor’s appointments? Bennett says that providers need to get more creative when it comes to attendance. In the works at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medicial Center, she says, is a pilot project that offers combined “mommy-baby” visits. By making baby a part of mom’s appointment, mom may be more likely to make it. Just by being there, Bennett adds, she would receive important education about improving health behaviors and the need for primary care follow-up. Other options Bennett and her team are looking into include home visits, collaborations with day care and community centers, as well as churches. The aim is to make the appointments more convenient for mothers and down the road, she adds that more work needs to be done by hospitals and physicians to make transportation and child care a possibility — and a perk.
"Pregnancy is a teachable moment, she says, “many women are very motivated to make healthier lifestyle choices to keep themselves and their babies healthy. After a birth, we need to keep them motivated.”
Be honest: Did you make — and keep — your postpartum appointments? Or did you find it hard?