482 women who had attended maternity units in Birmingham, UK, took part in a self-administered questionnaire at least a year after their most recent birth. "87 per cent complained of at least one health problem" says Midwife Amanda Williams, who is currently on secondment to the city's Perinatal Institute. "Asian women, who made up 15 per cent of the survey, were more likely to complain of health problems than white women, as were women who were older and had larger babies and longer labours."

The three most common problems reported were sex-related health issues (55 per cent) followed by stress urinary incontinence (54 per cent) and urge urinary incontinence (37 per cent). Painful intercourse was reported by 19 per cent of women who had had caesareans, 34 per cent who had had a normal birth and 36 per cent of women who had an instrument-assisted birth, such as forceps.

Sex-related health problems were highest among instrument-assisted births (77 per cent) and lowest among caesarean births (51 per cent), with 64 per cent of women having normal births reporting at least one problem related to sex. Women who had an instrument-assisted delivery also took two weeks longer than woman who had had caesareans and normal births to resume sexual intercourse (ten weeks versus eight) with figures ranging from one week to 52.

Having an epidural did not lead to an overall increase in health problems and this study does not support previous research that identified increased stress incontinence and frequent urinating as risk factors. Asian women reported greater health problems than white women. Perineal pain was more than two times higher (62 per cent versus 28 per cent) and they experienced much higher levels of continual urinary incontinence (35 per cent versus 20 per cent). However, Afro-Caribbean women displayed similar levels of ill health to white women.

MEDICA.de; Source: Blackwell Publishing