Understanding and Meeting the Needs of Women in the Postpartum Period: The Perinatal Maternal Health Promotion Model


  • Jenifer O. Fahey CNM, MSN MPH,

    Corresponding author
    • Address correspondence to Jenifer O. Fahey, CNM, MSN, MPH, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of Maryland, School of Medicine, 250 W. Pratt Street, Suite 880, Baltimore, MD 21201. E-mail: jfahey@fpi.umaryland.edu

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  • Edmond Shenassa ScD


A new model for the care of women in the postpartum focuses on the development of life skills that promote complete well-being. The year following childbirth is a time of significant transition for women. In addition to the physiologic changes associated with the postpartum period, a woman undergoes marked psychosocial changes as she transitions into a motherhood role, reestablishes relationships, and works to meet the physical and emotional needs of her infant and other family members. It is a time when women are vulnerable to health problems directly related to childbirth and to compromised self-care, which can manifest in the development or reestablishment of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. In addition to long-term implications for women, compromised maternal health in the postpartum period is associated with suboptimal health and developmental outcomes for infants. Maternal health experts have called for a change in how care is provided for women in the postpartum period. This article presents the rationale for a health promotion approach to meeting the needs of women in the postpartum period and introduces the Perinatal Maternal Health Promotion Model. This conceptual framework is built around a definition of maternal well-being that asserts that health goes beyond merely the absence of medical complications. In the model, the core elements of a healthy postpartum are identified and include not only physical recovery but also the ability to meet individual needs and successfully transition into motherhood. These goals can best be achieved by helping women develop or strengthen 4 key individual health-promoting skills: the ability to mobilize social support, self-efficacy, positive coping strategies, and realistic expectations. While the model focuses on the woman, the health promotion approach takes into account that maternal health in this critical period affects and is affected by her family, social network, and community. Clinical implications of the model are addressed, including specific health promotion strategies that clinicians can readily incorporate into antepartum and postpartum care.