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WHO calls for quality care for women, newborns in critical first weeks



World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched its first global guidelines to help women and newborns
during postnatal period, which lasts six weeks after birth.

The guidelines are in a statement released on Wednesday, where the world body described the first six weeks as critical time for ensuring newborn and maternal survival, supporting the baby’s healthy development and the mother’s overall mental and physical recovery.

It stated that more than one in every 10 women and babies worldwide do not currently receive postnatal care in the first days after birth, a time when majority of maternal and infant deaths occur.

According to WHO, the physical and emotional consequences of childbirth from injuries to recurring pain and trauma can be debilitating if left untreated.

The WHO guidelines, which recommended breastfeeding counselling to aid attachment and to support parents in providing responsive care for their newborns, include high quality care in health facilities for women and babies for at least 24 hours after birth, with a minimum of three additional postnatal checkups in the first six weeks.

It stated that “these additional contacts should include home visits if feasible, so that the health worker can support the transition to care in the home.

“In the case of a home birth, the first postnatal contact should occur as early as possible, and notl ater than 24 hours after birth, while steps are taken to identify and respond to danger signs needing urgent medical attention in either the woman or the baby.”

Other guidelines are; treatment, support and advice to aid recovery and manage common problems that women can experience after childbirth, such as perineal pain and breast engorgement.

Some others are screening of newborns for eye abnormalities and hearing impairment, as well as vaccination at birth, as well as support to help families interact and respond to babies’ signals, providing them with close contact, warmth and comfort.

“Exclusive breastfeeding, counselling, access to postnatal contraception and health promotion, including for physical activity, encouragement of partner involvement, by being part of checkups, for instance, as well as providing support to the woman and attending to the newborn are also crucial,” the world body noted.

The statement quoted Dr Anshu Banerjee, the WHO Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing, as saying “the need for quality maternity and newborn care does not stop once a baby is born.

“Indeed, 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.

“Parents need strong healthcare and support systems, especially women, whose needs are too often neglected when the baby comes.”

Banerjee said that in addition to addressing immediate health concerns, the first weeks after birth are crucial for building relationships and establishing behaviours that affect long-term infant development and health.

Dr Mercedes Bonet, the Medical Officer with WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research and UN Special Programme, said evidence showed that women and their families required positive postnatal experience.

Bonet said the experience would address the emotional challenges that occur after the birth of babies, while building parents’ confidence.

She said “dedicated postnatal services should provide vital physical and mental health support, while helping caregivers in providing the right care for
their newborns.”

She added that the recommendations complete a trilogy of guidelines from WHO for quality maternity care through pregnancy and during and after childbirth.

These, she said, would uphold the rights to positive healthcare experience where people were treated with dignity and respect and participate actively in healthcare decisions.

punch newspaper

Franca Ofili

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