More than 1 in 3 women have long-term health problems after giving birth

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A new study published in The Lancet Global Health highlights the significant burden of postnatal health conditions that persist long after childbirth, affecting millions of women worldwide.

The study, part of a special series on maternal health, sheds light on the prevalence of postpartum health problems that can persist for months or even years after giving birth.

These conditions include pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia), low back pain, anal incontinence, urinary incontinence, anxiety, depression, perineal pain, fear of childbirth (tokophobia), and secondary infertility.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia) affects more than a third (35%) of postpartum women.
  • Low back pain affects 32% of postpartum women.
  • Anal incontinence is experienced by 19% of postpartum women.
  • Urinary incontinence affects 8% to 31% of postpartum women.
  • Anxiety is reported by 9% to 24% of postpartum women.
  • Depression is experienced by 11% to 17% of postpartum women.
  • Perineal pain is reported by 11% of postpartum women.
  • Fear of childbirth (tokophobia) affects 6% to 15% of postpartum women.
  • Secondary infertility is experienced by 11% of postpartum women.

The study highlights the need for greater recognition and awareness of these common postpartum health problems within the healthcare system. Many of these conditions persist beyond the point where women typically have access to postnatal services.

The authors emphasize the importance of effective care throughout pregnancy and childbirth to detect risks and prevent complications that can lead to lasting health issues after birth.

The study also notes that these postpartum conditions have been largely neglected in clinical research, practice, and policy. The authors identified a lack of recent high-quality guidelines for the effective treatment of 40% of the 32 priority conditions analyzed in their study.

Furthermore, no high-quality guidelines were found from low- or middle-income countries. Data gaps were also significant, with no nationally representative or global studies available for any of the identified conditions.

The Lancet’s special series on maternal health, titled “Maternal health in the perinatal period and beyond,” emphasizes the need for a holistic approach to women’s health, both before and after pregnancy.

It calls for attention to the long-term health of women and girls, addressing broader social, economic, and environmental factors that influence maternal health. These factors include racial and gender inequities, economic context, nutrition, sanitation, environmental risks, and exposure to violence and conflict.

The series underscores the importance of a multidisciplinary health system that provides high-quality maternity services, prevents ill health, and addresses broader inequities to improve women’s health throughout their lives.

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The research findings can be found in New England Journal of Medicine.

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