Mothers struggle with painful sex and incontinence months or years after babies are born, survey reveals

A worrying number of women aren’t receiving the medical care they need

Sarah Young
Tuesday 03 April 2018 17:06 BST
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The trials and tribulations of pregnancy and childbirth are well documented but what happens to women’s bodies after the often painful process is rarely discussed.

In the immediate weeks following birth it’s accepted that women will require extra care to help recover from the physical changes that occur.

But new figures released today as part of Mumsnet’s Campaign for Better Postnatal Care have revealed that many mothers are struggling to cope with the long-term impact of birth injuries some months and even years later.

In the survey of women who gave birth between 2013 and 2016, more than one third (36 per cent) admitted that sex had become uncomfortable for them during the months after birth.

However, only four per cent of these women reported that they had received “great” medical care, and a further 13 per cent said they had received “adequate” care.

Worryingly, the overwhelming majority – 75 per cent – had not asked for, or received, medical help at all.

The results were also similar for the 42 per cent of women who reported experiencing problems with continence or pelvic floor.

Here, 18 per cent received “adequate” or “great” medical care, while 70 per cent did not seek assistance at all.

Interestingly, nearly one quarter of women (24 per cent) believed that while the NHS considers continence and good sex important for new mothers, it cannot afford to prioritise them.

Furthermore, 15 per cent say the NHS thinks birth inevitably means worse sex for some women and mild incontinence, and that’s just the way it is.

Mumsnet’s survey also found that more than one third (34 per cent) of women who tore during childbirth or had a caesarean claimed they did not have adequate after care for the surgical wound or injury in the weeks following birth.

“For most mothers, thankfully, birth means a baby - but it also means tears and wounds, and for some it can mean uncomfortable sex, incontinence or prolapse symptoms that last for years or even decades,” said Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts.

“We need an honest conversation about what birth can mean for some mothers, and for women to feel they have permission to discuss these symptoms with their healthcare providers and receive effective care.”

Debra Bick, professor of evidence based midwifery practice at King’s College London, added: “The Mumsnet Campaign for Better Postnatal Care highlights yet again the long-term impacts of birth on women’s health.

“For too long, postnatal care has been the ‘poor relation’, despite high numbers of women experiencing problems which persist way beyond the six –to-eight week postnatal period.

“Evidence is growing of why we need to plan and promote postnatal care which enables women to discuss their health needs with clinicians who have the appropriate skills and competencies,” she continued.

“We cannot continue to ignore postnatal care.”

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