Annually, a staggering 40 million women face the prospect of enduring persistent health issues arising from childbirth, as revealed by a recent study published in the Lancet Global Health journal on Thursday.
Part of a specialized series on maternal health, the research underscores the substantial burden of postnatal conditions that linger for months or even years after giving birth.
These encompass a spectrum of challenges such as dyspareunia (pain during sexual intercourse) affecting 35% of postpartum women, low back pain (32%), anal incontinence (19%), urinary incontinence (8-31%), anxiety (9-24%), depression (11-17%), perineal pain (11%), tokophobia (fear of childbirth) (6-15%), and secondary infertility (11%).
The study’s authors advocate for heightened acknowledgment within the healthcare system of these prevalent issues, many of which persist beyond the usual timeframe for postnatal services.
They stress the importance of effective care throughout pregnancy and childbirth as a crucial preventive measure, enabling the early detection of risks and averting complications that could lead to enduring health challenges post-birth.
Dr. Pascale Allotey, Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organisation (WHO), emphasizes the considerable, yet underappreciated, suffering caused by these conditions, urging healthcare providers to offer comprehensive services that extend beyond childbirth to ensure women’s enduring health and quality of life.
Despite their prevalence, the study points out the neglect of these conditions in clinical research, practice, and policy. Reviewing literature spanning the last 12 years, the authors discovered a lack of recent high-quality guidelines for treating 40% of the 32 priority conditions analyzed, with no high-quality guidelines from low- or middle-income countries. Additionally, there were no nationally representative or global studies for any of the identified conditions.
The comprehensive series, titled ‘Maternal Health in the Perinatal Period and Beyond,’ advocates for increased focus on the long-term health of women and girls both after and before pregnancy.
The authors recommend a holistic approach to reduce maternal deaths, addressing not only immediate biomedical causes but also considering the broader social, economic, and environmental factors influencing women’s health.
These include racial and gender inequities, economic context, nutrition, sanitation, environmental risks, and exposure to violence and conflict.
The authors argue that the lack of attention to such issues is a primary reason why 121 out of 185 countries have made insufficient progress in reducing maternal deaths over the past two decades.
Joao Paulo Souza, Centre Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information and one of the study’s authors, emphasizes that maternal health is a multifaceted concern that requires attention not only during pregnancy but throughout a woman’s life.
Factors influencing a healthy pregnancy, such as the surrounding environment, political and economic systems, access to nutritious food, and a woman’s agency over her life, must be collectively addressed to enhance her overall health, alongside ensuring access to high-quality healthcare throughout her life.