Spending over 15 years as a maternity RN, I’ve witnessed the raw realities and desperation maternal patients face when trying to access care. Individuals often had to wait on hold for extended periods just to talk with a human. They left numerous messages in our email inboxes and voicemails — as a result, our desks were scattered with sticky notes to remind us of incoming calls. Personalized attention was hard to come by in a busy Manhattan OB office.
Most of the time, maternity patients didn't call in with emergencies — yet. But, in time, minor concerns during the postpartum phase could easily become major issues. For example, a new mother facing difficulties while breastfeeding without the right support might not understand the best next steps to take — possibly leading to medical issues for the baby that could’ve been avoided. This is just one reason why access to quick, quality care is so important postpartum.
The truth is that new mothers need comprehensive care after childbirth — yet inequalities in postpartum support persist in the U.S. Let’s dive into some of the challenges to high-quality postpartum care, disparities among different patient communities, and the role digital health can play to help bridge the gap.
What challenges successful postpartum care?
To understand disparities that persist across postpartum care, it’s important to first recognize the distinct challenges both maternity patients and their providers face during the time after childbirth. Some of these issues emerge in the following areas:
Supporting physical recovery and emotional well-being
- For patients: Patients undergo significant physical changes during pregnancy and labor — and recovering from the stress of childbirth can be demanding. Mothers often find themselves grappling with discomfort and pain from symptoms such as postpartum bleeding. But healing also extends to the mental state of maternity patients. For instance, postpartum depression affects up to 20% of mothers after giving birth — making it the most common complication after delivery.
- For providers: Maternity care providers must understand varying degrees of postpartum recovery challenges and tailor care plans to individual needs. Recognizing and addressing postpartum mental health challenges — including depression and anxiety — requires awareness of potential warning signs, understanding best practices, and conducting thorough screenings. Care teams might face difficulties in identifying mental health concerns, adequately providing support while juggling daily tasks, and ensuring that patients feel comfortable discussing their emotional well-being.
Establishing successful breastfeeding
- For patients: While breastfeeding is a natural and essential aspect of postpartum care, many maternity patients encounter challenges in establishing and maintaining successful breastfeeding. Issues such as latch problems, nipple pain, and insufficient milk supply can disrupt the process. As a result, roughly 60% of mothers don’t breastfeed as long as intended.
- For providers: Supporting successful breastfeeding can be complex. In fact, organizations like the NIH have found some hospitals might unintentionally hinder successful breastfeeding through extending mother-child separations and prematurely introducing formula. Maternity care providers need to stay informed about the latest breastfeeding practices, and offer guidance, education, and resources to help mothers establish and maintain successful breastfeeding.
Understanding important steps in postpartum care
- For patients: Transitioning from hospital to home care can pose challenges in maintaining continuity of care for postpartum patients. But one significant gap that contributes to these issues is in understanding standards of care during this phase. Unfortunately, this has contributed to almost 20% of postpartum patients delaying or abstaining from medical care in the first year after giving birth.
- For providers: Effective care delivery and coordination between different healthcare providers, including primary care physicians and specialists, are crucial to ensure positive health outcomes after childbirth. However, the data points to mixed applications of standards of care. For example, one study discovered that 64% of women overall saw an OB-GYN at least once within six months of delivery. But of those patients, a mere 29% with existing gestational diabetes received blood glucose screening.
What disparities exist in postpartum care?
Even though any maternity patient could face numerous postpartum issues, the uncomfortable truth is that some patient populations experience them more frequently. Some inequities that continue to pervade postpartum care include:
1. Health literacy gaps
Maternity patients in the U.S. experience disparities in the support they receive while recovering after childbirth. Access to postpartum care varies wildly, and at-risk patient populations often face hurdles in obtaining necessary medical and emotional assistance — and even knowing about it in the first place. In fact, 81% of Black and 76% of Hispanic respondents to an insurer-led survey stated they wish they had known more about mental health challenges in the postpartum phase.
2. Inequities in breastfeeding success
Breastfeeding is a crucial aspect of postpartum care, but inequities exist in the support available to maternity patients. Some communities may lack access to lactation consultants, breastfeeding education programs, and proper facilities for nursing mothers. And the results of this disparity are clearly evident, with only 73% of infants born to Black mothers ever breastfed — below the 83% national average.
3. Disparities during discharge
In addition to occurring in the weeks and months following childbirth, inequities in postpartum support also occur at the moment of discharge. One study found only around half of Black maternity patients report receiving sufficient information about warning signs related to postpartum complications. Simultaneously, Black mothers are more likely to be readmitted to the hospital post-birth.
How to deliver more equitable care for postpartum patients through digital health
Providing high-quality care for all maternity patients won’t be achieved by a one-size-fits-all model. Rather, every provider will need to carefully analyze what barriers their patients face and develop ways to help remove them. Fortunately, emerging innovations in digital health are harnessing AI and accessible communication channels to:
1. Educate maternity patients
Underpinning many disparities that exist in postpartum care are health literacy gaps. Let’s take breastfeeding as an example. One report found breastfeeding education stemming back to the prenatal phase improves “breastfeeding uptake, breastfeeding knowledge, increase in positive attitude to breastfeeding, and an increase in maternal breastfeeding self-efficacy.”
Although providing comprehensive education and counseling on postpartum care — including family planning and lifestyle adjustments — is essential, it can be challenging within limited interactions at discharge or during follow-up appointments. Where does digital health come into play? Forward-thinking innovations — like Memora Health’s intelligent care enablement technology — proactively educate maternity patients using conversational AI that draws from clinically relevant content, ensuring every enrolled individual gets high-touch, high-quality care support.
2. Screen for mental health challenges
Last year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) updated its mental health guidelines to recommend screening patients for depression and anxiety before, during, and after giving birth. But, realistically, less than 20% of maternity patients are ever screened for mental illness.
As physicians strive to hit better screening numbers to support their patients — and as patient volumes increase — they’ll need more advanced technologies. The most innovative digital health platforms answer this call by consistently screening maternity patients throughout their perinatal care journeys using the most accessible channel to date — text messaging. Going a step beyond that, Memora Health’s technology automatically collects and organizes subsequent patient messaging histories for streamlined accessibility by care teams.
3. Simplify monitoring workflows
When it comes to maternity care, there are few solutions that help doctors keep track of patients and mitigate postpartum complications other than remote patient monitoring (RPM) technologies. For example, one study discovered a significant reduction in readmissions due to postpartum hypertension with the use of RPM.
However, leveraging RPM data can be tricky. It can easily overwhelm providers if it isn’t carefully and automatically organized. That’s why nascent innovations need to account for this challenge by streamlining data collection and visualizing the information for care teams. Memora’s platform does just that by integrating with RPM devices and displaying the resulting monitoring data in a physician-facing dashboard.
Healthcare has a long way to go to ensure high-quality care for all postpartum patients. But by harnessing the right technology, healthcare leaders can equip their care teams with the right tools to make significant improvements.
Memora Health’s intelligent care enablement technology is simplifying maternal care delivery for patients by providing them with an AI-powered, always-on care companion and for providers by extending the reach of clinicians outside of hospital walls.
Want to learn more about the latest care support innovation for maternity patients? Read our maternity care report.