Giving birth is often described as a miraculous, magical experience – 'the most natural thing in the world'. Thankfully, the baby usually makes the gruelling labour worth it, but the process can have uncomfortable, painful and even life-altering consequences for many women.
According to a new survey by Mumsnet, more new mums are suffering with the long-term effects of giving birth than we know. More than a third (36%) of the 1,224 women surveyed, who gave birth between 2013 and 2016, said they endured months of uncomfortable sex after labour, while an even greater proportion (42%) reported experiencing incontinence or pelvic floor problems.
75% of women who found sex uncomfortable post-labour said they didn't ask for medical help
Worryingly, the overwhelming majority (75%) of women who found sex uncomfortable post-labour said they didn't ask for or receive medical help. With women's health concerns frequently overlooked by the medical establishment and the NHS severely overstretched and underfunded, it's no wonder that many new mothers don't feel brave enough to raise the issue with their doctor.
What's more, according to Mumsnet's research, many of the women who do ask for help aren't receiving proper care. Just 4% of those who reported uncomfortable sex said they'd received ‘great’ medical care, while 13% described it as ‘adequate’.
A similar proportion of new mums are letting their pelvic floor problems go untreated after giving birth, the survey suggests, with 70% not seeking medical help and 18% receiving ‘adequate’ or ‘great’ medical care.
The women surveyed also said they weren't getting sufficient treatment for the injuries inflicted by labour. Over a third (34%) who tore or had a Caesarean said the care they received for their surgical wound or injury in the weeks following birth was insufficient, while a fifth (20%) who had an assisted birth using forceps or ventouse, aka a vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery or vacuum extraction (VE), were debriefed by an obstetrician or midwife.
When you consider how common these birth injuries are, Mumsnet's findings are even more concerning. Statistics show 90% of women tear during childbirth and 10 years after giving birth, around 20% of mothers will experience urinary incontinence and 3% faecal incontinence caused by their pregnancy and birth experiences.
“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, adding that she sees "so many stories" of women struggling with pain and degrading symptoms.
"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.”
The NHS advises new mothers to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles by "[squeezing] and [drawing] in your back passage as if you're holding in wind." It advises: "You can do this exercise lying down, sitting or standing. With practice, it can be done anywhere and at any time – even while you're watching TV."
"Squeeze around your vagina and bladder tube (urethra) as if you're stopping the flow of urine or squeezing during intercourse. Now relax. This is a short squeeze. Rest for a second, then repeat these squeezes until you feel the muscles get tired.
"After a short rest, squeeze again as above. This time, hold the squeeze for as long as you can, but no longer than 10 seconds, then relax. It's important to keep breathing normally while you do these exercises. Make sure you don't pull in your stomach or squeeze your buttocks when you squeeze." For the best results, do each exercise 10 times, four to six times a day.
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