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Postnatal Care Module: 1. Postnatal Care at the Health Post and in the Community

Study Session 1  Postnatal Care at the Health Post and in the Community


Postnatal care (PNC) is the care given to the mother and her newborn baby immediately after the birth and for the first six weeks of life (Figure 1.1). This period marks the establishment of a new phase of family life for women and their partners and the beginning of the lifelong health record for newborn babies (or neonatesa term often used by doctors, nurses and midwives).

Although for most women and babies, the postnatal period is uncomplicated, effective postnatal care (PNC) is also about recognising any deviation from expected recovery after birth, and evaluating and intervening appropriately in a timely fashion. It is of major concern that less than 6% of women in Ethiopia give birth in health facilities and not more than 10% receive any postnatal care within two days of delivery. Your role as a Health Extension Practitioner is therefore vitally important in improving this situation, identifying danger signs and reducing the adverse outcomes for mothers and newborns.

In Ethiopia, as in all countries, the postnatal period is often marked by specific cultural practices. Understanding the beliefs and cultural practices in your community is fundamental in ensuring appropriate postnatal care. In this first study session, you will learn why care in the postnatal period is so important, and about the need for community participation and involvement for optimum PNC. We briefly summarise some methods of community mobilisation, and how to establish partnerships with the key gatekeepers who can help you look after new mothers and their babies.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 1

When you have studied this session, you should be able to:

1.1  Define and use correctly all of the key words printed in bold. (SAQ 1.1)

1.2  Explain the importance of postnatal care in terms of when most mothers and newborns die, and the main causes of these deaths. (SAQ 1.2)

1.3  Briefly describe the main physiological changes in the mother and newborn in the postnatal period. (SAQ 1.3)

1.4  Describe the main danger signs in the postnatal mother and newborn. (SAQ 1.3)

1.5  Explain the importance of community involvement in postnatal care and describe how you would establish partnerships with gatekeepers in the community. (SAQ 1.2)

1.1  Why is effective postnatal care so important?

The time when effective postnatal care can make the most difference to the health and life chances of mothers and newborns is in the early neonatal period, the time just after the delivery and through the first seven days of life. However, the whole of the neonatal period, from birth to the 28th day after the birth, is a time of increased risk. Deaths during the first 28 days of babies who were born alive is reported by all countries in the world as the neonatal mortality rate (the number of babies who die in the first 28 days) per 1,000 live births. Similarly, reports of maternal mortality include deaths of women from complications associated with postnatal problems, not just problems arising during the birth. Both these rates are important indicators of the effectiveness of postnatal care.

So the first reason why you need to focus more care and attention on the postnatal period is that this is a very critical time for the mother and her newborn baby. The national maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in Ethiopia is one of the highest in the world: at the last Demographic and Health Survey in 2005 (European calendar) 673 mothers died per 100,000 live births. Similarly, the early neonatal mortality rate was also very high, with 39 babies dying in the first week of life per 1,000 live births (EDHS, 2005). Ethiopia is one of five African countries that (together) account for half of all the newborn deaths in the whole of Africa.

This high risk period is also the time with the lowest coverage of maternal and child health care in Ethiopia. This is the second reason why you need to focus more attention on postnatal care.

If all newborns received high impact and cost-effective interventions during the postnatal period, it is estimated that neonatal mortality could be reduced by between 10-27%. In other words, high postnatal care coverage could save up to 60,000 newborn lives a year in Ethiopia, and help the country to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing under-five child mortality by two-thirds by the year 2015.

Ideally, postnatal care is best delivered in a health facility. However, due to many socio-economic and cultural reasons, such as the distance to travel and the cost of attending, most rural mothers give birth at home. Therefore, in the Ethiopian context, the most realistic way of providing optimum postnatal care for the foreseeable future is likely to be through home visits by a skilled health care worker such as you.

1.2  When do most mothers and newborns die in the postnatal period?

Mothers and their newborn babies are at highest risk of dying during the early neonatal period, especially in the first 24 hours following birth and over the first seven days after delivery (see Table 1.1). As you can see from the table, 45-50% of the mothers and newborns who die do so in the first 24 hours after birth, and 65-75% of the maternal and neonatal deaths occur within one week of birth. This is compelling evidence to provide optimum and integrated maternal and newborn care during the first few days after delivery.

Table 1.1  Global estimates of maternal and newborn mortality in the first seven days after the birth.
Deaths after deliveryFirst 24 hours (%)First seven days (%)
Maternal mortality4565
Neonatal mortality5075

For some life-threatening maternal and newborn conditions, effective postnatal care is either given in the first few hours and days, or it will happen too late. The earlier these clinical conditions are detected, the more effectively they can be managed; the quicker they are referred for specialised treatment, the better the outcomes will be. Unfortunately, most of these interventions are highly time-dependant in order to be effective. You should keep this in mind while providing care to mothers and their babies in the first few days of postnatal life.

1.3  What do mothers and newborns in the postnatal period die from?

The main purpose of providing optimal postnatal care is to avert both maternal and neonatal death, as well as long-term complications. To be effective you therefore need to know the major causes of death in the postnatal period, so that you can provide quality and timely postnatal care at the domestic and Health Post level.

Knowing what mothers and newborns are dying from is important in order to identify the high impact interventions that address all the major causes of death during the postnatal period. Table 1.2 shows the percentage of maternal deaths from the major causes for women in Africa.

You learned about anaemia, hypertensive disorders and abortion in Study Sessions 18, 19 and 20 of the Antenatal Care Module. Obstructed labour and postpartum haemorrhage were taught in Study Sessions 9 and 11 of the Labour and Delivery Care Module.

Table 1.2  Causes of maternal death in Africa.
Causes of maternal deathPercentage (%)
Postpartum haemorrhage34
Localised infection or disseminated infection (sepsis)16
Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (pre-eclampsia, eclampsia)9
Obstructed labour 4
Abortion 4
Anaemia 4
All other causes of death30

Table 1.3 shows the causes of newborn deaths in Ethiopia. You will learn about special care for preterm and low birth weight babies in Study Session 8 of this Module.

Infections, including diarrhoeal diseases and tetanus, are described in detail in the Communicable Diseases Module. Birth asphyxia and neonatal resuscitation were covered in Study Session 7 of the Labour and Delivery Care Module,

Table 1.3  Causes of newborn deaths in Ethiopia.
Causes of newborn deaths Percentage (%)

∙  Diarrhoea


∙  Tetanus


∙  Other infections, including neonatal infection (sepsis)

Birth asphyxia25
Prematurity and low birth weight 17
Congenital defects (deformities present at birth)4
All other causes 7
  • Why is it really important for you to understand the main factors causing mothers and babies to die in the postnatal period?

  • You probably thought of many reasons, but the most obvious one is the huge difference that the delivery of appropriate and prompt postnatal care could have on Ethiopia's neonatal mortality rate: a reduction of between 10-27%, or up to 60,000 newborn lives saved every year.

  • Think for a moment about the main causes of maternal and neonatal death. Which ones do you expect to see most in your role as a Health Extension Practitioner?

  • If you use the numbers in Tables 1.2 and 1.3, then you probably said postpartum haemorrhage for mothers and some form of infection for babies and also for mothers. You might also have picked out eclampsia (mothers) and neonatal asphyxia (babies).

1.4  Why are women and newborns at high risk in the postnatal period?

The most critical period for complications in the postnatal mother arising from bleeding (post-partum haemorrhage) is in the first 4-6 hours after delivery, due to excessive blood loss from the site where the placenta was attached to the mother’s uterus, or from rupture of the uterus during labour and delivery. Haemorrhage can also threaten the baby’s life if it occurs before delivery and the baby is starved of oxygen and nutrients.

Both the mother and the baby are also at high risk of developing other complications if the physiological adjustments that take place in their bodies after the birth do not occur properly. This can result in loss of function or interruption of essential supplies of oxygen and nutrients needed to sustain life.

1.4.1  Physiological changes in the postnatal mother

During labour and delivery, there is inevitably some loss of blood and other body fluids (for example, from vomiting and sweating), which is tolerable by the majority of women. Some degree of this is normal. Additionally, most women in labour remain for long hours without taking food or sufficient fluids, which can leave them dehydrated. Unless they are rehydrated quickly after the birth, physiological complications become more likely.

During pregnancy, activity in almost all the mother’s body systems changes, including the heart, lungs, blood volume and blood contents, reproductive system, breasts, immune system and hormones. In the postnatal period, all these dynamic body systems have to adjust from the pregnant state back to the pre-pregnant state, and there is a potential risk of complications as these adjustments occur. Common examples are breast infections and deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the veins of the legs), which are described in Study Session 3 of this Module. The period in which these physiological adjustments take place in the postnatal mother is called the puerperium. You will learn all about it in Study Sessions 2 and 3.

Additionally, labour is a painful experience for most women, particularly for those giving birth for the first time. There is also tension and anxiety about the outcome of labour and delivery. Having a baby is a joy (Figure 1.1), but it can also be a source of worry. Women in the postnatal period are often coping with stressful conditions and thus they need sustained psychological support.

A smiling mother carries her laughing baby on her back.
Figure 1.1  Having a healthy baby is a source of joy, which effective postnatal care can help to ensure. (Photo: Nancy Durrell McKenna at SafeHands for Mothers)

1.4.2  Complications in the newborn

Risk of infection

While in the uterus, the baby was well protected by the fetal membranes and the antibacterial action of the amniotic fluid in which it was bathed, and by maternal antibodies that cross the placenta and defend it against infections that the mother has already encountered. After birth, antibodies in the colostrum (first milk) and true breast milk, and natural barriers like the baby’s skin, give the newborn most of the protection from infection that it has when newly born. Its own immune system will take several months to develop adequately.

Risk of asphyxia

The newborn baby’s blood circulation system undergoes major adjustments when it takes its first breath outside the uterus. While the baby is in the uterus, very little blood goes to the lungs because the baby isn’t breathing air. The fetal lungs cannot perform the gas exchange (absorbing oxygen and releasing waste carbon dioxide), which occurs from the moment of birth onwards.

  • Where does fetal gas exchange occur during the baby’s life in the uterus?

  • Oxygen is absorbed into the fetal blood from the mother’s blood as they come close together in the placenta; carbon dioxide from the fetus passes into the mother’s blood and is expelled from her body in her breath.

    You learned about gas exchange in the placenta in Study Session 6 of the Antenatal Care Module.

Immediately at birth, the blood vessels that bypass the lungs are opened and all the blood in the baby’s circulation is then able to pass through the lungs, where it undergoes gas exchange. It is a critical moment for the newborn when the lungs start to function. Failure to breathe is a common reason for birth asphyxia. Also, preterm newborns often have difficulty in getting enough oxygen after birth because their lungs are not fully matured, so gas exchange does not occur effectively.

You will learn more about neonatal jaundice in Study Session 6, and also in the Module on the Integrated Management of Newborn and Childhood Illness (IMNCI).

While in the uterus, the majority of toxic (poisonous) or waste chemicals are cleared from the baby’s blood by the placenta, which routes them to the mother’s liver, where they are broken down (the process is called detoxification). After the birth, the baby’s liver takes over this function, and detoxifies the waste chemicals produced in the body or taken in through the mouth. One of the tasks the liver has to perform is detoxifying a protein called bilirubin released when ‘old’ red blood cells are broken down. Red blood cells survive for only a short time and are then broken down and replaced. If the newborn’s liver is unable to cope with the load of ‘old’ red blood cells that need to be broken down, bilirubin builds up in the baby’s body, giving the skin a yellowish appearance. This condition is called neonatal jaundice, and is most serious when the skin appears yellow on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

The newborn’s kidneys also make a significant contribution to the clearance of toxic chemicals from the body, which are excreted in the urine. Immaturity in the functioning of the kidneys can also result in newborn complications as toxic chemicals build up in the body.

  • Imagine that you are talking to the mother of a very newborn baby and she tells you that the baby arrived a bit early. What should you immediately be concerned about?

  • First you need to check if the baby can feed adequately. You will probably think of the immaturity of a preterm baby’s lungs and check whether this baby shows any signs of respiratory distress. You may also think of the immaturity of the liver and kidneys and check for signs of jaundice.

1.5  Your actions in the postnatal period

You cannot assume that a successful delivery and healthy-looking mother and newborn in the immediate postnatal period will mean that they will continue in a good state. Complications may occur because of the physiological adjustments in the mother and newborn described above (which we will discuss in more detail in later study sessions in this Module), and the rapid adaptations the baby must make to life in the external environment. Therefore, you need to watch carefully for danger signs in the immediate and later postnatal period. Before sending the mother and the baby home (if they delivered at the Health Post), or before you leave both at their home after the delivery, watch them for the first six hours after the birth. If you were unable to attend the birth, visit them as soon as you can within the first 24 hours, and ideally in the first six hours.

1.5.1  Evaluating the postnatal mother

In the first six hours, evaluate the mother for the danger signs described below:

  • Inadequate uterine contraction: A poorly contracted uterus is a danger sign; consider referral if (after six hours) the uterus is bigger than the normal size at 20 weeks of gestation, and it cannot be felt easily because it is soft in consistency.
  • Fresh vaginal bleeding: Some bloody discharge (called lochia) is normal in the immediate postnatal period, but there shouldn’t be active bleeding visible with fresh bright-red blood.
  • Vital signs unstable or indicating shock: Blood pressure and pulse rate should be normal before you leave the mother. If her blood pressure is dropping and her pulse rate is rising, the woman may be going into shock due to internal bleeding. If the uterus remains enlarged after the birth, and the vital signs indicate shock, it may be due to blood accumulating in the uterus.

Important! Refer the mother urgently if you see any danger signs, take the baby too.

1.5.2  Evaluating the newborn baby

You should evaluate the newborn for the following danger signs in the first six hours:

Breastfeeding is described in detail in Study Session 7.

  • Inadequate breastfeeding: Preterm, very low birth weight, asphyxiated or sick babies generally cannot suck breast milk well. Sucking increases milk production, so do not discourage the mother from breast feeding if she is not producing sufficient milk initially. Rehydrate her and encourage the baby to suckle.
  • Neonatal jaundice: Yellowish discoloration of the newborn’s skin is an indication for immediate referral to the nearest health centre or hospital if it begins within the first 24 hours, or after the baby is two weeks old.
  • Fever, repeated vomiting, swollen abdomen, or no stool after 24 hours: Fever (temperature equal to or above 37.5oC), vomiting and the other danger signs indicate that there is a serious infection and/or an obstruction somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Hypothermia: If the baby feels cold to the touch, or has a temperature of less than 35oC, this is known as hypothermia. Place the baby in skin-to-skin contact with the mother, wrap them both in warm blankets and put a warm cap or shawl on the baby’s head. Refer them quickly if the baby’s temperature does not rise soon towards normal.
  • Respiratory distress: The baby is in respiratory distress if it is breathing at above 60 breaths per minute, its chest is ‘in-drawing’ (ribs sucking inwards as the baby gasps for breath), its lips are blue, and/or its heart rate is above 160 beats per minute.
  • Bleeding from the umbilical stump or other site: If the umbilical stump was tied too loosely before it was cut, it may bleed, or the baby may bleed from the anus, indicating blood loss from the stomach or intestines.
  • Red swollen eyelids or pus discharging from the eyes: If you have already treated the baby’s eyes with tetracycline ointment at birth, refer the mother and baby for specialised care.

Preventing hypothermia by using the 'warm chain principle' is described in detail in Study Session 7.

The total amount of blood in an average weight newborn is only 240 ml; even 30 ml of blood loss is enough to cause shock.

1.5.3  Follow-up after immediate postnatal care

During the first postnatal visit, you should also remember to:

  • Counsel the mother and her husband/partner about family planning, immunization, and breast feeding, as you will learn later in this Module.
  • Make an appointment for her to come to your Health Post or visit her at home after three days, six days and six weeks (Figure 1.2) if everything is progressing normally.
  • Make an additional appointment to visit her at home after two days if there are any complications which have not resulted in referral, or if the baby was pre-term, low birth weight or suffers from low body temperature.

Low birth weight and pre-term babies are the subject of Study Session 8.

A health worker is talking to a mother. A baby lays asleep on the mothers lap.
Figure 1.2  A postnatal checkup is a good time to counsel mothers about immunization and family planning. (Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia/Indrias Getachew)

1.6  Community mobilisation for postnatal care

Community mobilisation is defined as an action stimulated by a community, or by others, which are planned, carried out and evaluated by community members, organisations or groups, to solve community health problems. In this study session, the focus is on health problems arising during the postnatal period. Community mobilisation is a continuous and cumulative process of communication, education and organisation to build leadership and implementation capacity.

1.6.1  Methods for mobilising community action

Box 1.1 summarises the main methods for community mobilisation. Our coverage is brief here because you have already met all the methods in the Module on Health Education, Advocacy and Community Mobilisation.

Box 1.1  Methods for community mobilisation

Posters: Well-designed posters, placed and located in the right place can facilitate messages to keep reminding people about the issue of concern.

Letter writing: This is one way of delivering health messages to literate members of the community. It gives the exact message and can be kept for future reference.

Illustrated leaflets: Pictures are a good way of getting the message to people whose level of literacy is insufficient to understand letters (Figure 1.3).

Home visiting: This is the best way of mobilising the community, because you can be sure that the message has been delivered.

A health worker visits a mother at home. She shows her illustrated leaflets. A baby sits on the mothers knee.
Figure 1.3  Illustrated leaflets in the local language can help to communicate your health messages to new mothers. (Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia/Indrias Getachew)

Community mobilisation is based on a high level of community participation, which occurs when community members taking part in identification of problems and needs, and then plan, implement, monitor and evaluate community activities to solve the identified problem.

The fundamental principle that you always need to remember is that you are not there to ‘enforce’ community participation. Your role is to explore, to learn from community wisdom, and to educate and persuade community members to bring about the necessary changes — in this case to improve postnatal outcomes. The final word and the final decision always belong to the community.

1.6.2  Why is community participation so important?

When people are involved and participate in an activity, they develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, which helps to sustain initiatives, activities and programmes. It also has the following benefits:

  • Increased availability of resources as community members willingly contribute time and resources to what they consider to be their own initiatives and activities.
  • A sense of unity among community members.
  • Increasing confidence as the successes of their contributions are registered.
  • People are empowered to exercise their skills, talents and develop their potential.
  • Behaviour change will be quicker and easier.
  • Controlling harmful traditional practices becomes easier.

1.6.3  Establishing partnerships with community gatekeepers

The primary targets of postnatal care are the mother, her newborn baby and the father. However, there are secondary targets — the community gatekeepers who can influence decision-making that affects the mother and baby’s health. You need to involve these people right from the outset when you introduce a postnatal care service in your community. Give particular attention to involving:

  • Official village administrators
  • Religious leaders, church or mosque groups
  • Opinion leaders and village elders
  • Women’s associations or women’s clubs
  • Youth associations
  • Neighbourhood social committees
  • Farmers’ associations or agriculture associations
  • Traditional birth attendants (TBAs), traditional healers
  • Village drug vendors
  • Any others you think are relevant to the specific circumstances.

Without the cooperation and collaboration of these individuals and groups it will be difficult to provide optimum postnatal care. In particular, it is essential to establish a good link and harmonise your efforts with the traditional birth attendants (TBAs). The following activities will help you to do this (Box 1.2):

Box 1.2  Establishing a partnership with traditional birth attendants
  • Contact the TBAs in your community and discuss how you can support each other in providing postnatal care to women, newborns and families. Together you can create new knowledge which is more locally appropriate.
  • Respect their knowledge, experience, opinions and influence. Ask them to explain the knowledge they share with the community.
  • Share with them your information about postnatal care. Provide copies of health education materials that you wish to distribute to community members and discuss the content with them.
  • Involve them in counseling sessions for families and other community members. Include them in meetings with community leaders and influential groups.
  • Discuss the recommendation that all deliveries should be performed by a skilled birth attendant like you. When this is not possible, or not preferred by the woman and her family, discuss how the TBAs can provide more effective postnatal care, and when to make an emergency referral to you or to a higher health facility.
  • Make sure TBAs are included in the referral system and provide them with feedback on women they have referred to you.
  • Why do you think it is important to involve TBAs and local healers as described above?

  • They are important partners, because they know the local culture, are respected by the community, and have a lot of experience in dealing with most of the social problems arising during the postnatal period.

  • Imagine you are a TBA with many years of experience. A Health Extension Practitioner begins to work in your village and asks for your help. What kinds of things would make you most likely to want to cooperate and support her practice?

  • Of course there is no single right answer to this question, just as there is no single TBA to whom all answers will fit equally. However, you probably included some of the following points:

    • She treats you with respect and as an equal.
    • She shows a real interest in the traditional childbirth practices in your village.
    • You can see that she values your knowledge and experience.
    • She gives you the opportunity to learn about new childbirth practices.
    • She asks you to join her as a partner in a joint effort to improve postnatal care for the women and newborns in your village.
    • She invites you to meetings with village leaders and other gatekeepers to mobilise community support for postnatal care services.

1.7  Conducting a community profile

You learned how to conduct a community profile in Study Session 1 of the Antenatal Care Module.

Before you can provide an effective postnatal care service to your community, you should know the total population you are going to serve and how to collect vital statistics, such as births, deaths and information on migration of people into and out of the area. In addition you need to record all women in the reproductive age group (approximately 15 to 45 years), who may become pregnant in the future, and the number of currently pregnant women with their expected date of delivery.

You should also record the names and addresses of all TBAs, local healers, village drug vendors and any other private practitioners. Register all community organisations that may support you in mobilising human, financial and transportation resources, in case emergency medical referrals are required for the mother and baby. You will learn about the referral link in the final study session of this Module. All of the above information needs to be updated every four to six months.

You may not need to conduct community mobilisation separately for PNC. It should be done in an integrated and harmonised way with all other community-based maternal, neonatal and child health services. Box 1.3 summarises the activity for community mobilisation to support postnatal care.

Box 1.3  Community based postnatal services

  • Visit individual community leaders, TBAs and traditional healers to engage their support.
  • Organise orientation meetings for all opinion leaders and gatekeepers.
  • With community leaders and TBAs, plan and organise community meetings to educate community members about postnatal care.
  • Carry out home visits to teach parents and caregivers about postnatal care (Figure 1.4).
  • Distribute information, education and communication (IEC) materials to community leaders and community members.
A health worker is showing anew mother how to improve her breastfeeding technique. A baby suckles on her mother’s teat.
Figure 1.4  A home visit from a supportive health worker can help new mothers to learn new skills. (Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia)

Summary of Study Session 1

In Study Session 1 you have learned that:

  1. The maternal mortality ratio and neonatal mortality rate in Ethiopia are among the highest in the world.
  2. Around 45-50% of mothers and newborns die in the first 24 hours after the birth, and 65-75% of maternal and newborn deaths occur in the first week.
  3. Effective postnatal care within six hours of the birth, and after two days, six days and six weeks could significantly reduce maternal and neonatal mortality.
  4. The most common causes of postnatal maternal death include haemorrhage, eclampsia, infection and ruptured uterus.
  5. The most important causes of neonatal death are infection, birth asphyxia, prematurity and low birth weight.
  6. The postnatal period is a time of rapid physiological adjustment for the mother to the non-pregnant state, and for the newborn adapting to life outside the uterus.
  7. Danger signs for the mother in the postnatal period include the uterus not well contracted, active vaginal bleeding and shock.
  8. Danger signs for the newborn include jaundice, respiratory distress, fever and other signs of infection, hypothermia, persistent vomiting, and bleeding from the umbilical stump or anus.
  9. Before launching a PNC service, you should conduct awareness creation and sensitisation sessions to ensure full community participation, and involve community leaders, traditional birth attendants and healers; also carry out home visits to teach parents and caregivers and distribute information, education and communication materials.

Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) for Study Session 1

Now that you have completed this study session, you can assess how well you have achieved its Learning Outcomes by answering the questions below. Write your answers in your Study Diary and discuss them with your Tutor at the next Study Support Meeting. You can check your answers with the Notes on the Self-Assessment Questions at the end of this Module.

SAQ 1.1 (tests Learning Outcome 1.1)

The following is a list of key terms used in this study session, each with a definition. Which of the definitions below are (i) fully correct, (ii) partially correct, and (iii) wrong. Write a short sentence for each of the partially correct or wrong definitions, using the term correctly.

  • a.Neonate — a newborn baby.
  • b.Postnatal care (PNC) — care given to the baby immediately after birth.
  • c.Neonatal mortality rate — the number of babies, in every 1,000 live births, who die within the first 28 days of their life.
  • d.Early neonatal period — the time just after delivery and through the first seven days of life.
  • e.Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) — the number of mothers who die giving birth.
  • f.Early neonatal mortality rate — the number of babies who die just after delivery.
  • g.Neonatal period — from birth to the 28th day after the birth.
  • h.Gas exchange — what citizens of the US engage in when they go to the petrol station.
  • i.Neonatal jaundice — a condition which can occur when the newborn’s liver is unable fully to detoxify the blood.
  • a.Correct: neonate is a newborn baby.
  • b.Partially correct: it is the care given to the baby and the mother immediately after birth and for the first 6 weeks of life.
  • c.Correct: the neonatal mortality rate is newborn deaths in the first 28 days, per 1,000 live births.
  • d.Correct: the early neonatal period is from birth to the first seven days.
  • e.Partially correct: it is the number of mothers who die during birth and as a result of complications immediately following childbirth. In Ethiopia the MMR is very high with around 673 deaths per 100,000 live births. Note that whereas the neonatal mortality rate is measured per 1,000 live births, the MMR is measured per 100,000 live births.
  • f.Wrong: it is the number of deaths in the first week of life per 1,000 live births. This is also very high in Ethiopia, with around 39 deaths per 1,000 live births.
  • g.Correct: the neonatal period is from birth to the 28th day.
  • h.Wrong: it is the process in which our lungs absorb oxygen and release waste carbon dioxide. It occurs from the moment of birth.
  • i.Correct: in more detail what happens is that the liver fails to remove a protein called bilirubin, which is released in the process of breaking down ‘old’ red blood cells. A sign of neonatal jaundice (i.e. a build-up of bilirubin) is when the skin appears yellow, especially on the baby’s palms and soles.

SAQ 1.2 (test Learning Outcome 1.2 and 1.5)

Imagine that you are trying to convince the Ethiopian Finance Minister to put more money into postnatal health care and he wants the evidence as to why. Write a short letter outlining the key points that you would emphasise.


There are many points you could make to the Finance Minister. Here are some of the key ones:

  • Ethiopia has some of the highest rates of maternal mortality and early neonatal mortality in the world (you could quote him the actual figures).
  • The period of greatest risk (i.e. just after delivery and in the first seven days of life and up to 28 days) is also when there is the lowest coverage of maternal and child health care in Ethiopia.
  • High quality postnatal care has to happen in the first few hours or it is too late, but also that effective postnatal intervention has the potential to reduce the neonatal mortality by 10-27%. This will help Ethiopia meet the Millennium Development Goals to reduce maternal and child deaths.
  • We already know the main causes of death in the postnatal period (you could give him the list) and we broadly know what to do about them – it is mainly a question of a trained health worker being there to do it.
  • You might also point out that to be really effective, postnatal care needs also to involve the community (getting them engaged in the whole process, facilitating behaviour-change from harmful traditional practices, etc.), and explain to him how you will be doing this, e.g. talking to key ‘gatekeepers’ and enlisting the help of the Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) in the community.

SAQ 1.3 (tests Learning Outcome 1.3 and 1.4)

You have done a good job persuading the Finance Minister, but he has asked the Health Minister to check that you really know what you are talking about. She asks you to list the key signs for potential complications that you should look out for in a postnatal mother and the main danger signs in the newborn baby. What would you write in your list?


Danger signs in the postnatal mother:

Key signs to look for include dehydration, a poorly contracted uterus, fresh bleeding, a drop in blood pressure and a rising pulse. Longer term dangers to be aware of include blood clots and depression.

Danger signs in the newborn:

Immediate things to check: is the baby breastfeeding properly, is the skin colour normal or yellowish, is there any fever, is the baby cold or too warm to the touch, is the breathing normal, is there any bleeding, has the baby got swollen or red eyelids? You would also check if the baby is preterm so as to know if it is at increased risk for some complications.You probably got most of these. If not, or if you can’t remember what they indicate, re-read Section 1.5.2 ‘Evaluating the newborn baby’.