Do you think you could be living with an injury or condition from childbirth? Rest assured, you’re not alone.
New Medibank research1 has found that nearly 3 in 4 Australian women (74%) who had a vaginal birth in the last five years experienced one or more injuries as a result. Perineal tears were one of the most prevalent injuries reported, affecting 43%, while other common injuries included haemorrhoids, at 38%, as well as damage to the pelvic floor and urinary incontinence (both at 31%).
“It’s alarming to see how many women are experiencing perineal tears, given we know this injury can have a debilitating effect on a woman’s day-to-day life,” says Medibank Medical Director Dr Kevin Cheng.
“It’s important to note, this is not necessarily a reflection of poor quality care — there could be a number of reasons why we’re seeing such a high incidence. For example, size of the baby, a prolonged second stage labour, the positioning of the baby or simply giving birth for the first time.”
The research revealed 62% of those who had a childbirth-related injury or condition are still experiencing symptoms more than one year after birth. What’s more, one in five women (20%) delayed seeking medical treatment for their injuries until symptoms persisted or worsened, and concerningly 21% reported they still hadn’t sought treatment for their symptoms up to five years after giving birth.
Injuries most common in younger women
The research shows childbirth-related injuries and conditions are more prevalent in younger women, with 18 to 29 year olds most likely to experience perineal tears, pelvic pain, nerve damage, rectal incontinence and fistula. Meanwhile, conditions like pelvic floor dysfunction and urinary incontinence are more commonly seen in women aged 35 and over.
“When looking at these findings it’s important to take into account that many of these younger women may be reporting on their first childbirth experience — where women are typically at a higher risk of encountering issues, having an epidural or having a large child,” said Dr Cheng.
Women losing confidence due to injuries
According to the research, one in five (22%) felt they did not have anyone they could talk to about the injuries they sustained, and 40% were left feeling both self-conscious about their bodies and less confident in themselves. Fourteen per cent said they’d even considered corrective surgery as a result of the physical trauma they’d experienced from childbirth.
Many also felt their relationships suffered, with more than a third (35%) saying their sex life was negatively affected. Thirteen per cent experienced pain during sex for more than a year after giving birth, and up to 5% of women said they still didn’t feel comfortable having sex after five years.
If you think you may be living with a childbirth-related injury and need support, speak with your doctor. If you are a Medibank member, you can also call 1800 644 325 to speak to a Medibank nurse — available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Have you just given birth? Read more on the early days with your baby.
1 Medibank research was conducted by ACA Research between 26 August - 2 September 2016, surveying 1,025 Australian mums of children aged 1-5 who had a vaginal birth.