By Esther Kisaakye
Being aware of why you should and how to protect yourself and your newborn baby from Infections after birth will help you take care of the situation effectively to avert complications which can be life threatening sometimes.
After you have given birth, your body is exceptionally prone to infections (postpartum infections) because it takes time to heal and recover back to its earlier state. You have open wounds in your uterus and there are various lacerations around your birth canal. You may experience a wide range of infections after giving birth and these may include infections of the uterus, bladder and kidney. These are more common in women who have had a caesarean delivery or those who have had a premature rupture of membranes. If you've had a caesarean delivery, the wound (C-section cut) remains fresh for quite some time so your uterus might end up getting infected if you don't do infection prevention practices.
On the side of your new born baby, infections can be very serious for several reasons. First, your baby does not yet have fully developed immune system, so it is susceptible to infections. Also, when your newborn baby gets an infection, the illness is often more serious than when an adult or older child gets the same infection. During childbirth, the baby can swallow or breathe in the fluid in the birth canal, and bacteria or viruses can get into their lungs and blood. The baby can become sick during childbirth or within the first few days after birth.
How to protect yourself
During the first six weeks as you recover from your delivery, do not insert anything into the vagina, take care to change your pads regularly. Keep your hands clean by practicing regular hand washing and if you sustained a tear or had a normal vaginal cut by a midwife or doctor, take care of it by cleaning the site regularly and wait until 6 weeks after birth before you can return to normal activities, such as light office work or house cleaning and having sex.
Even if you're feeling fine, ensure that you do not forget to go back to the health facility for review (postnatal visits) on the scheduled dates as stated on your discharge form. These are medical checkups you get to make sure you're recovering well from labor and birth. They help your health care provider to spot and treat health conditions you may have in the days and weeks after giving birth. Normally the postnatal visit should be within 1 week, preferably on day 3, the second visit should be 7-14 days after birth and the third visit should be 4-6 weeks after birth.
Call your health care provider or rush to the health facility if you have any abnormal feelings such as fever, abdominal pain or painful urination and smelly discharge
How to protect your baby
Your new born baby has weak immune system. This is why it's so important for you to breastfeed your baby: it provides the newborn baby with antibodies to help fight infection. As a result, breastfed infants have fewer infections than babies who are bottle fed. Remember to wash your hands before caring for the baby or breast feeding the baby to decrease spread of infection.
You should make sure that you receive all the vaccines you need to take during pregnancy like tetanus toxoid. This helps to protect your baby from such infections after birth. Be sure your baby also gets all the necessary vaccines. Immunizing your child helps protect him against preventable but potentially life-threatening infections.
Writer is a Field Epidemiology Fellow with the Uganda Public Health Fellowship Program, Ministry of Health