Birth can be a difficult but rewarding process. Many mothers know that they experience some health issues after birth. A recent report found that up to 40 million mothers per year experience long-term postpartum health complications. This includes back problems, mental health problems, and other physical issues. They can last years.
One in three women globally has to deal with health issues and they are rarely addressed by most government’s maternal health institutions. Many of them only cover the needs of mothers until childbirth. Postnatal health issues are also under-reported and under-treated.
Post-partum health issues that mothers face
1. Pain during sex
According to the report, published by Lancet Global Health and eClinical Medicine, backed by the UN’s Special Programme on Human Reproduction, 35% of postpartum women experience painful sex after birth. Sex should never be painful, when it is, there is an underlying issue. For postpartum mothers, painful sex can be caused by:
- Hormonal changes-low oestrogen levels can lead to vaginal dryness. This can be caused by breastfeeding as well.
- Episiotomy-this is vaginal tearing during childbirth that heals and leads to scar tissue.
- Pelvic pain after a C-section. A c-section is a major surgery and it can lead to pain in the pelvic floor which leads to painful intercourse.
- Overcoming birth trauma. Births are extremely traumatic and make it difficult to adjust during postpartum.
- Fatigue-Sleep deprivation from the new baby can lead to low libido.
- Hypertonicity of the pelvic floor. This is when birth triggers tender areas in the pelvic floor which makes penetrative sex painful.
Pelvic Floor Muscles: Key Things To Know
You can treat postpartum sex pain by:
- Learning how your new body is more comfortable during sex. The pelvic floor may have adjusted during birth and trying to have sex the same way you did before the baby can make it painful.
- Make foreplay a necessity. Postpartum sex may need more time to achieve arousal.
- Use lubricant if you’re experiencing vaginal dryness even after foreplay. Relationships: Benefits Of Using Lube While Having Sex
- Physiotherapy and exercise can help relieve any tightness in the pelvic floor.
- Wait until scar tissue fully heals.
- Take prescribed oral or topical medications to help achieve painless sex.
- In extreme cases, such as pelvic organ prolapse, surgery may be necessary to restore the pelvic floor.
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2. Postpartum back pain
The report found that 32% of women experience back pain after birth. This can happen due to the physical changes that happen to the body during pregnancy. The expanding uterus alters body posture and weakens abdominal muscles. The weight gain from pregnancy can also lead to back pain. If a mother experiences back pain during the pregnancy, there’s a high likelihood that they will get chronic back pain after. Strain can also happen during the birth process and the pain lingers after. Postpartum back pain should clear after a few months. If it doesn’t, seek medical attention. 7 Effective Tips On How To Sleep With Lower Back Pains
Some solutions to post-birth back pain include:
- Low-impact exercises like yoga or walking can help with weight loss and improving posture.
- Soothing a strained back with massages and a warm bath every other evening can also relieve back pain.
- Avoid carrying heavy items.
- Maintain good posture even when breastfeeding.
- If the back pain worsens, see a doctor. This could be because of an injury. Other symptoms to watch out for include fever, loss of coordination, incontinence, and weakness.
Effective Non-Medical Solutions For Back Pain
Another postpartum pain is perineal pain. It occurs because of swelling or tearing in the perineum, the stretch of skin connecting the vulva and the anus. It lasts about a week. If it persists, you may need to see a doctor who can provide topical painkillers.
Postpartum incontinence can be mild or severe. 19% of mothers experience anal incontinence while up to 31% experience urinary incontinence. This occurs because pregnancy triggers the release of hormones that stretch the muscles in the pelvic floor. These muscles and tissue support the bladder, uterus and bowels. During birth, the pelvic floor loosens to facilitate the passing of the baby and they can remain loose after. When recovering from birth, the bladder can leak occasionally. You can also leak when you cough, sneeze, or laugh—stress incontinence. Health: Are You Peeing A Lot? Common Reasons For Frequent Urination
Postpartum incontinence is more likely to happen if you had bladder or bowel issues before the baby. It can also happen if you’re giving birth to your first baby, a large baby, a long labour, or a difficult delivery that requires stitches or a vacuum cup. A c-section can reduce incontinence but it can still happen.
The incontinence should stop after a few weeks when the pelvic floor recovers from birth. If it’s not fully recovered, see a doctor. Getting it treated as soon as possible reduces the chance of it becoming a chronic issue. Managing incontinence can be stressful. If you are experiencing a lot of leakage, use incontinence pads. Carry extra underwear just in case. Be aware of where toilets are whenever you go out. Cross your legs when you’re laughing. Avoid high-impact exercises and activities.
How to treat postpartum incontinence:
- Ice the perineum for the first few days after going home.
- Do pelvic floor contraction exercises while lying down.
- Eat more fibre.
- Lift less.
- Take enough water.
- Retrain the bladder.
- Use medication prescribed by the doctor.
- Surgery, when suggested by your doctor.
4. Mental health problems
9-24% of mothers experience postpartum anxiety, while 11-17% experience postpartum depression. 6-15% also develop a fear of childbirth. Postpartum anxiety is when a mother feels excessive worrying, constant nervousness and panicking about the child. It can happen after childbirth or adoption. There is a normal amount of worry that comes with becoming a parent. However, when it takes over and prevents you from being functional, it becomes anxiety. It can occur along with postpartum depression. Health & Parenting: Things You Should Know About Postpartum Depression
This is when a mother feels empty, sad and emotionless after the birth of a baby. It leads to low mood, exhaustion and hopelessness after birth. Sometimes this can be referred to as baby blues but that doesn’t cover the extreme nature of perinatal depression. These conditions are caused by hormonal disruption, stress, or sleep deprivation. If you had anxiety or depression before, you’re more likely to develop these. If you or anyone experiences these symptoms, ensure they see a doctor immediately. Health & Parenting: Helping A Spouse With Postpartum Depression
Symptoms of postpartum anxiety are:
- Staying awake all night because you’re afraid the baby will die or stop breathing in their sleep.
- Being afraid to leave the baby alone even with someone you should like a spouse or a nanny.
- Being afraid that the baby will get hurt when you leave the house.
- Heart palpitations.
- Stomach upsets.
- Shortness of breath.
- Muscle tension.
- Spiralling thoughts.
- Avoiding people.
- Obsessively checking things.
Symptoms of postpartum depression are:
- Crying a lot.
- Feeling overwhelmed.
- Thinking of hurting yourself or the baby.
- Feeling like you’re a bad parent no matter what you do.
- Insomnia and hypersomnia.
- Having no energy and no motivation.
- Chronic pains and aches.
- Having no interest in the baby.
- Extreme anxiety.
Treatments for postpartum depression include medications like antidepressants, talk therapy, and support groups.
5. Secondary infertility
The report states that 11% of mothers experience secondary infertility. This is when it’s difficult to conceive or carry a baby to full-term after having given birth beforehand. Many factors contribute to secondary infertility including advanced maternal age, low sperm count, damaged fallopian tubes, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, excess weight gain, smoking and alcohol use disorder.
It can be treated with fertility medications, insemination, and in-vitro fertilisation. Your fertility specialist would determine the best course of treatment for you, depending on your body and lifestyle. Health: Things To Know Before Starting IVF
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