New mums not reporting their own health issues

A large number of mothers experience health problems in the three months after giving birth but in many cases the issue is not reported or no health professional seeks to address it.

A major longitudinal study on the health of first-time mothers has found that one third of those monitored as part of the research had pelvic girdle pain at three months post-partum, 28% had anxiety, and 18% said they had suffered depression at some stage since giving birth.

Other problems uncovered at the three-month stage among the 2,600 mothers who were monitored included the almost 60% of women who leaked some amount of urine since giving birth and the 12% who had experienced anal incontinence.

The Maternal Health and Maternal Morbidity in Ireland study, interim results from which are launched today, also found that in a huge number of cases GPs did not ask the mother directly about the problem or condition.

Half of GPs did not ask about anxiety or depression, 80% did not ask about sexual issues, such as the half of all women surveyed who said they had experienced painful sex after birth, and three-quarters of GPs did not ask about leaking urine.

One of the experts behind the study, Dr Deirdre Daly, an assistant professor in midwifery at Trinity College Dublin, said of the findings: “As professionals, we don’t ask, and as women, we don’t tell.”

Dr Daly said while it was understandable that the focus of parents and health professionals is predominantly on the health and care of the baby in the period after labour, there needs to be an increased focus on the health of the mother — particularly as any health concerns that go unaddressed have the potential to worsen.

She said there is the possibility of a “domino effect”, which could strain family relations and impact on the child’s health, often because women feel isolated and alone due to the lack of discourse and information on what are often quite common problems in what she called “an all-pervading silence”.

“An awful lot of women have an awful lot of unmet health needs,” said Dr Daly.

“You get something early and treat it properly and you can stop something that could be acute in the long term. If these things are prolonged they can become chronic and worsen.”

She said new mothers are often “suffering in silence” even though the figures show that many women experience a variety of health difficulties.

Dr Daly said addressing those issues requires resources at service and policy levels, whereas currently there are regional variations — as well as variations within regions — regarding the level of post-birth monitoring on offer. One example she gives is the possibility of every new mother being provided with a self-assessment checklist to encourage women to consider their own health needs.

The study, funded by the Health Research Board, the HSE, Trinity College, and others, began in 2012 and will collect new data on children at five years of age next year.

For more on the Maternal Health and Maternal Morbidity in Ireland study go to its website, mammi.ie

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