Incontinence After Childbirth May Last Years

Some New Moms May Have Anal Incontinence 2 Years After Birth, but Few Discuss It With Their Doctor

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on March 23, 2010

March 24, 2010 -- Problems with anal incontinence following childbirth may linger long after childbirth and hurt women’s quality of life and ability to care for their child, a new study finds.

In a previous study, about 38% of women reported new onset of at least one anal incontinence symptom -- such as gas or involuntary passing of stool -- in the 3-6 month period after delivery.

The new study shows that some women may experience bouts of anal incontinence two years after childbirth. More than half of these women are frustrated by their condition, and more than a quarter say it negatively affects their emotional health.

In addition, researchers say nearly one in five mothers with anal incontinence say the condition hinders her ability to care for her child.

“The postpartum period is an important time for parent-child bonding,” researcher Jaime Lo, MD, of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and colleagues write in Obstetrics & Gynecology. “The development of anal incontinence postpartum may have important ramifications for both maternal and child health because it may affect a mother’s ability to care for her child emotionally and physically.”

Postpartum Incontinence Affects Quality of LIfe

In the study, researchers surveyed 1,247 women in Utah who experienced anal incontinence at least once in the two years following childbirth.

The results showed that 68% reported anal incontinence symptoms six months after childbirth, and 45% had symptoms 12 months following childbirth. By two years after childbirth, 28% of women still reported bouts of anal incontinence.

More than half of women with anal incontinence also reported symptoms of urinary incontinence.

Researchers found anal incontinence after childbirth had a significant impact on women’s quality of life in several ways. For example:

  • 22% of women with anal incontinence felt their condition negatively affected their physical recreation.
  • 12% said anal incontinence negatively affected their entertainment activities.
  • 13% said their anal incontinence got in the way of any travel longer than half an hour.
  • Women with severe anal incontinence symptoms were four to seven times more likely to report negative quality of life than women with mild symptoms.

Researchers say despite persistent symptoms and negative quality of life, few women report their anal incontinence symptoms to their health care provider.

The results suggest that about 80,000 women (2% of births) each year in the United States may have persistent long-term anal incontinence related to childbirth. But only 8,000 will report these symptoms to their health care providers.

Treatment for anal incontinence frequently involves a combination of medication, biofeedback, and exercise. Surgery is also an option.