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Women reluctant to discuss post-birth incontinence

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Women who experience incontinence issues after childbirth are suffering in “silence”, with more than a third embarrassed to discuss it with a health professional, according to new survey.

It found 38% of those who developed incontinence after giving birth were self-conscious speaking about the problem with a clinician, which the National Childbirth Trust described as “worrying”.

“Incontinence is not something they need to shy away from talking about”

Sarah McMullen

In addition, 33% of women who developed urinary incontinence after childbirth were embarrassed to discuss it with their partner, and 46% were uncomfortable talking about it with friends.

The online survey was carried out for the NCT by Survation in June. It involved 1,515 UK adults aged over 18 with a child aged less than two years of age.

NCT head of knowledge Dr Sarah McMullen said: “We know that many find it a difficult and embarrassing subject to raise. But if we can break the taboo, we can bring about a change that will dramatically improve the lives of thousands of women.”

“We hope that speaking out about the subject will reassure women that they are not alone and that treatment is available – incontinence is not something they need to shy away from talking about,” she said.

“It’s vital they feel they can talk to their midwife or healthcare professional so get the best possible advice”

Jacques Gerrard

Dr McMullen noted that most cases of urinary incontinence could be treated through pelvic floor exercises, adding that women should aim to do at least three sets per day.

The Royal College of Midwives urged women not to feel embarrassed about broaching the subject.

RCM director for England Jacque Gerrard said: “During pregnancy women’s bodies go through many changes and it’s vital they feel they can talk to their midwife or healthcare professional so get the best possible advice, support and care.

“Midwives are best placed to provide support and women should not feel embarrassed or concerned about raising issues surrounding incontinence with them,” she said.

She noted that women were generally more receptive to health messages during pregnancy and it was, therefore, an “ideal time when midwives can be proactive in discussing prevention”.

In 2013 the RCM and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists published a joint position statement on Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercise and improving health outcomes following pregnancy and birth.

It said all childbearing women should be given evidence-based information and advice about pelvic floor exercises, and an opportunity to discuss pelvic care with a qualified healthcare professional.

In cases where women experience a problem with incontinence and pelvic floor muscles, there should be a clear referral pathway to a specialist physiotherapist, said the statement.

It added that midwives would be provided with a new set of learning resources being developed through the project, to improve their knowledge and skills in this area.

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