Almost three in four Australian women who’ve had a vaginal birth in the last five years are injured and many are suffering in silence, a new study shows.
Medibank research released this week reveals the majority (62 per cent) of women who suffered from a childbirth-related injury or condition are still experiencing symptoms more than a year later.
The study involved 1,025 Australian mums of children aged one to five, who had a vaginal birth in the last five years.
Women are afraid to come forward
Of those women injured during childbirth, one in five delayed getting medical help until the symptoms continued or worsened.
Medibank Medical director Dr Kevin Cheng says the figures show it is important more is done to encourage women to seek help sooner.
“These findings are certainly confronting, and we can see that childbirth-related injuries are far more prevalent than many might imagine,” Dr Cheng says.
“It’s essential we recognise that there’s a taboo around discussing these very common issues, and as a nation, help create an environment where women feel less isolated and more comfortable to share what they’re going through.”
Perineal tears top the injury list
The injuries reported included perineal tears (43 per cent), haemorrhoids (38 per cent), pelvic floor damage (31 per cent) and urinary incontinence (31 per cent).
Dr Cheng says it’s “alarming” so many women are experience perineal tears. “We know this injury can have a debilitating effect on a woman’s day-to-day life,” he says.
“It’s important to note, this is not necessarily a reflection of poor quality care – there could be a number of reasons why we’re seeing such a high incidence.
“For example, size of the baby, a prolonged second stage labour, the positioning of the baby or simply giving birth for the first time.”
Young women are the most affected
The study reveals childbirth-related injuries is most common among younger women, with 18 to 29 year olds most likely to experience perineal tears, pelvic pain, nerve damage, rectal incontinence and fistula.
However, pelvic floor dysfunction and urinary incontinence are more likely to be experienced by women aged 35 and over.
“When looking at these findings it’s important to take into account that many of these younger women may be reporting on their first childbirth experience – where women are typically at a higher risk of encountering issues, having an epidural or having a large child,” Dr Cheng says.