1 in 3 Women Have Lasting Health Problems After Giving Birth: Study

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Dec. 8, 2023 -- More than 1 in 3 women worldwide (at least 40 million women) annually experience lasting health problems in the months or years following childbirth, according to a new study published inThe Lancet Global Health.

Those problems include pain during sexual intercourse (35%), low back pain (32%), urinary incontinence (8% to 31%), anxiety (9% to 24%), anal incontinence (19%), depression (11% to 17%), fear of childbirth (6% to 15%), perineal pain (11%), and secondary infertility (11%).

Other problems included pelvic organ prolapse, posttraumatic stress disorder, thyroid dysfunction, mastitis, HIV seroconversion (when the body begins to produce detectable levels of HIV antibodies), nerve injury, and psychosis. 

The study says most women see a doctor 6  to 12 weeks after birth and then rarely talk to doctors about these nagging health problems. Many of the problems don't show up until 6 or more weeks after birth.

“To comprehensively address these conditions, broader and more comprehensive health service opportunities are needed, which should extend beyond 6 weeks postpartum and embrace multidisciplinary models of care,” the study says. “This approach can ensure that these conditions are promptly identified and given the attention that they deserve.”

The study is part of a series organized by the United Nation’s Special Program on Human Reproduction, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The authors said most of the data came from high-income nations. There was little data from low-income and middle-income countries except for postpartum depression, anxiety, and psychosis.

“Many postpartum conditions cause considerable suffering in women’s daily life long after birth, both emotionally and physically, and yet they are largely underappreciated, underrecognized, and underreported,” Pascale Allotey, MD, director of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO, said in a statement.

“Throughout their lives, and beyond motherhood, women need access to a range of services from health-care providers who listen to their concerns and meet their needs -- so they not only survive childbirth but can enjoy good health and quality of life.”