Background: Awareness about the extent of maternal physical and emotional health problems after childbirth is increasing, but few longitudinal studies examining their duration have been published. The aim of this study was to describe changes in the prevalence of maternal health problems in the 6 months after birth and their association with parity and method of birth.
Methods: A population-based, cohort study was conducted in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Australia. The study population, comprising women who gave birth to a live baby from March to October 1997, completed 4 questionnaires on the fourth postpartum day, and at 8, 16, and 24 weeks postpartum. Outcome measures were self-reported health problems during each of the three 8-week postpartum periods up to 24 weeks.
Results: A total of 1295 women participated, and 1193 (92) completed the study. Health problems showing resolution between 8 and 24 weeks postpartum were exhaustion/extreme tiredness (60-49), backache (53-45), bowel problems (37-17), lack of sleep/baby crying (30-15), hemorrhoids (30-13), perineal pain (22-4), excessive/prolonged bleeding (20-2), urinary incontinence (19-11), mastitis (15-3), and other urinary problems (5-3). No significant changes occurred in the prevalence of frequent headaches or migraines, sexual problems, or depression over the 6 months. Adjusting for method of birth, primiparas were more likely than multiparas to report perineal pain and sexual problems. Compared with unassisted vaginal births, women who had cesarean sections reported more exhaustion, lack of sleep, and bowel problems; reported less perineal pain and urinary incontinence in the first 8 weeks; and were more likely to be readmitted to hospital within 8 weeks of the birth. Women with forceps or vacuum extraction reported more perineal pain and sexual problems than those with unassisted vaginal births after adjusting for parity, perineal trauma, and length of labor.
Conclusions: Health problems commonly occurred after childbirth with some resolution over the 6 months postpartum. Some important differences in prevalence of health problems were evident when parity and method of birth were considered.