Childbirth Studies and Incontinence

Jasmine Schmidt Health Guide
  • Two new studies landed on my desk this week – both about the effects of pregnancy and childbirth on incontinence. Interestingly, one study was primarily concerned with fecal incontinence, and the other with urinary incontinence. Both studies seem to offer further confirmation that pregnancy and/or childbirth can cause pelvic floor damage, leading to incontinence.

    The study on fecal incontinence was presented at the recent International Continence Society meeting in New Zealand. The study followed women who acquired 3rd or 4th degree tears to the anal sphincter during childbirth. According to the study, two years after the birth 42% of the women were “sometimes” experiencing fecal urgency, and 20% were “sometimes” experiencing fecal incontinence. The study also reported on urinary incontinence, and found at two years out that 25% of the women were experiencing urge incontinence, and 42% were experiencing stress incontinence.
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    The study on urinary incontinence was actually a thesis, Women’s Health after Childbirth, written by a postgraduate student named Erica Schytt in Sweden. In her study, she surveyed approximately 2,500 Swedish women. 22% of the women documented complained about problems with stress incontinence a year after giving birth. According to Dr. Schytt, women who had a cesarean had a lower rate of incontinence. Although it wasn’t mentioned in this report, it is also suspected that pregnancy alone can lead to an increased risk of incontinence – meaning that while vaginal birth leads to an even higher risk of urinary incontinence, women may also experience incontinence following a cesarean as a result of the pregnancy itself.

    While this doesn’t sound like very good news for women who are either pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, there is a small silver lining. The surveys conducted by Dr. Schytt asked women to categorize their overall present state of health. At both two months post-birth and one year post-birth, more women answered this question with “good” or “very good” than women of the same age in the general population. As Dr. Schytt points out, this either means that “giving birth makes you healthy, or healthy women have babies…It’s probably the latter, but I daresay it’s also the case that women experience powerful elation after giving birth that takes their mind off any ailments that they might also expect to be only temporary.”

    Read more about the study on sphincter tears.

    Read the press release about the thesis on urinary incontinence.

    Until next time – keep doing those Kegels!
Published On: December 15, 2006