More than 350,000 new mothers are missing vital postnatal check-ups every year, according to a major study.
Experts have warned the well-being of thousands of women is being put at risk by the missed appointments, which can pick up serious problems such as postnatal depression.
Teenage mothers and those living in the most deprived parts of the country were most likely to miss the checks – which look at a woman’s health and recovery in the weeks immediately after birth.
More than 350,000 new mothers are missing vital postnatal check-ups every year, according to a major study
The appointments, usually offered six to eight weeks after giving birth, also provide an opportunity to discuss matters including breastfeeding, contraception, stopping smoking, return to physical activity and diet.
But the largest study of its kind found two in ten women had no consultation with a GP within this time frame, while four in ten had no official record of the checks – so they may or may not have had them.
Lack of invitations from GPs, difficulties getting appointments or no incentives to attend have been blamed for women falling through the gaps.
The study’s authors said: ‘This period is a potentially vulnerable time for women. The postnatal check has been shown to be a key contact to identify serious health needs such as postnatal depression, which affects one in six women after childbirth.
Experts have warned the well-being of thousands of women is being put at risk by the missed appointments, which can pick up serious problems such as postnatal depression
‘Our findings suggest practices may need to implement systems for follow-up of women who have declined or missed a check.’
In the UK, women have automatic access to midwives and health visitors for the first few days after a birth.
They should then be invited by their family doctor for a formal check-up six to eight weeks later in line with national and World Health Organisation guidance.
But, with around 800,000 women giving birth in the UK each year, the researchers estimate that up to 350,400 may be missing out on such check-ups.
The team from University College London and Imperial College London looked at the records from 730 general practices across the country.
They studied postnatal check-ups and use of primary care by women aged 15-49 who became mothers between 2006 and 2015.
In all, 309,573 births to 241,662 women were included in the analysis. Only just over half the women (56 per cent) had a structured postnatal check-up within the first ten weeks of having a baby but there was no record of this for four in ten women.
Yet in the 12 months following childbirth, almost all women – 95 per cent – had at least one appointment with a clinician.
According to the findings published in online journal BMJ Open, women from the most deprived areas were 10 per cent less likely to get a check-up than those from the least deprived.
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