Childbirth injuries more common than we thought

According to Medibank research released last week, nearly three in four Australian women who’ve had a vaginal birth in the last five years suffered an injury as a result.

Perineal tears were one of the most prevalent injuries reported, affecting 43 per cent of women, while other common injuries included haemorrhoids, at 38 per cent, as well as damage to the pelvic floor and urinary incontinence (both at 31 per cent).

Medibank Medical Director Dr Kevin Cheng said “It’s alarming to see how many women are suffering from perineal tears, given we know this injury can have a debilitating effect on a woman’s day-to-day life. 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.”

The research revealed 62 per cent of those who suffered from a childbirth-related injury or condition are still experiencing symptoms more than one year after birth. What’s more, one in five women (20 per cent) delayed seeking medical treatment for their injuries until symptoms persisted or worsened, and concerningly 21 per cent reported they still hadn’t sought treatment for their symptoms up to five years after giving birth.

“These findings are certainly confronting, and we can see that childbirth-related injuries are far more prevalent than many might imagine. 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,” said Dr Cheng.

Injuries most common in younger women

The research shows childbirth-related injuries and conditions are more prevalent in younger women, with 18 to 29 year olds most likely to experience perineal tears, pelvic pain, nerve damage, rectal incontinence and fistula. Meanwhile, conditions like pelvic floor dysfunction and urinary incontinence are more commonly seen in 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.”

Women losing confidence due to injuries

According to the research, one in five2 felt they did not have anyone they could talk to about the injuries they sustained, and 40 per cent were left feeling both self-conscious about their bodies and less confident in themselves. Fourteen per cent said they’d even considered corrective surgery as a result of the physical trauma they’d experienced from childbirth.

Many also felt their relationships suffered as a result, with more than a third (35 per cent) saying their sex life was negatively affected. Thirteen per cent experienced pain during sex for more than a year after giving birth, and up to five per cent of women said they still didn’t feel comfortable having sex after five years.

If you think you may be living with a childbirth-related injury and are a Medibank member, call our Health Advice line on 1800 644 325 to speak to one of our registered nurses — available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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