Hidden distress suffered by new mums revealed
Embarrassment of patients and medics over debilitating conditions leaves women untreated
Thousands of first-time mothers, who are enduring mental, physical and sexual health problems, are suffering in silence, a major study reveals today.
They are too embarrassed to speak about debilitating intimate conditions, while doctors and nurses are failing to raise the issues with them.
The hidden toll of distress has emerged for the first time in a study on 'Maternal Health and Maternal Morbidity in Ireland' led by the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity College.
The research discovered that three months after giving birth:
Nearly one in five mothers suffered depression but only half of GPs asked mothers directly about it;
Six in 10 women had problems with bladder control since having their baby, but three quarters of their doctors did not broach the issue;
Half experienced discomfort while having sex and a quarter of new mothers were not sexually active three months after giving birth. But just half of their doctors discussed it with them;
One in five women found sex painful a year after giving birth;
One in eight endured anal incontinence but three-quarters of their doctors failed to ask them about it.
The results also showed that one in three women was enduring pelvic girdle pain three months after giving birth.
However, as many as two-thirds of doctors had not broached the issue with them.
This kind of pain can strike anywhere in the front or back of the pelvis, lower back area and leave a woman having difficulty walking, driving, sitting, sleeping, lifting children or pushing a buggy.
There was also a high prevalence of this form of pain during pregnancy. Women described trying to "put up with the pain" and balance their activities.
One in three women was not asked about postnatal depression by their public health nurses, who is a key figure at this time.
More than a quarter had experienced some anxiety.
Almost nine in 10 were not asked about relationship problems by their GP in the first three months of motherhood.
Lead researcher Professor Cecily Begley, chair of the School of the School of Nursing and Midwifery, said: "Most of these conditions are preventable or treatable. Yet women are not being asked about them at a time when they are in regular contact with health professionals."
Dr Deirdre Daly, Assistant Professor in Midwifery at Trinity, said that many women are not disclosing the problems because they have not heard about anyone else suffering them.
"They feel embarrassed and think 'it must be just me'," she said.
Yet if there was a proper conversation, they would not have to put up with the conditions and could prevent them persisting into later life, she said.
The findings showed that "thousands of women are missing out on vital information that could have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing", she said.
"It is necessary to change the approach and health professionals must find ways to raise the issues. They must also get to know women in their care and listen to them," she said.
"The second issue is that we need to get this information out to women so that they can become informed and inform each other."
She pointed out that talking and sharing will "break down the walls of secrecy and silence".
The failure of health professionals to probe these areas could be due to a number of factors, including lack of time and a prudishness on their own behalf.