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Over a third of women experience lasting health problems after childbirth, study

Health experts are calling for greater attention to long term health challenges faced by women and girls.

According to a new study dubbed beyond pregnancy and published in the Lancet Global Health, at least 40 million women are likely to experience a long-term health problem caused by childbirth each year.

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Part of a special Series on maternal health, the study shows a high burden of postnatal conditions that persist in the months or even years after giving birth. These include pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia), affecting more than a third (35%) of postpartum women, low back pain (32%), anal incontinence (19%), urinary incontinence (8-31%), anxiety (9-24%), depression (11-17%), perineal pain (11%), fear of childbirth (tokophobia) (6-15%) and secondary infertility (11%).

The authors of the paper call for greater recognition within the healthcare system of these common problems, many of which occur beyond the point where women typically have access to postnatal services.

“Many postpartum conditions cause considerable suffering in women’s daily life long after birth, both emotionally and physically, and yet they are largely underappreciated, under-recognized, and under-reported,” said Dr Pascale Allotey, Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO.

Despite their prevalence, these conditions have been largely neglected in clinical research, practice and policy, the paper notes.

During a literature review spanning the last 12 years, the authors identified no recent high-quality guidelines to support effective treatment for 40% of the 32 priority conditions analysed in their study, and found not a single high-quality guideline from a low- or middle-income country.

According to the study, 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.

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