ANN ARBOR, Mich. - First-time mom Brandi Phare thought she was all alone when she began suffering postpartum ailments. She experienced pain as a result of multiple tears on her body from giving birth, and also faced severe incontinence.
Unbeknownst to Phare, she was in the majority.
"Easily over half of women who have vaginal birth, at least their first birth, will have some problem in terms of bowel, bladder or sexual dysfunction that can occur," said Dee Fenner, M.D.,
director of the University of Michigan Health System's Healthy Healing After Delivery Program. Fenner is also a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, director of both Gynecology and Surgical Services, and the Harold Furlong Professor.
"Afterward, I would tell people that I was having problems and they would just say, ‘Oh yeah, I had that' why would you not tell people?" Phare wondered.
Many women wrongly believe that postpartum ailments are simply a part of giving birth, and that they need not be addressed.
Fenner urges women to take care of their own health after delivery, not solely their infant's.
"Unfortunately, I think many women suffer in silence in that they don't really complain or know that something can be done," Fenner said.
Luckily for Phare, she went in to see a U-M nurse about her incontinence and other problems, and was then referred to U-M's Healthy Healing After Delivery Program.
She received a device and medication to help her incontinence. "Now I'm not having any problems at all," Phare said.
About 15 percent of new mothers end up needing surgery for various reasons, including leakages of urine or a tear that did not heal correctly.
"We want to empower the women to give them the education, to give them the tools," Fenner said.
The U-M clinic involves physicians, nurses, midwifes, physical therapists and more to offer comprehensive postpartum care to new mothers. The program offers education in the form of teaching sheets that say what is normal or abnormal, when to worry and when to just wait for healing to occur. It also offers pelvic floor training, in addition to other programs and medications. It is open to any woman, regardless of where she delivered her baby.
If you experience any of the following symptoms after giving birth, talk to your health care provider:
- bowel incontinence
- urinary incontinence
- non-healing episiotomy
- deep cuts or lacerations
- rectovaginal fistulas
- difficulty with intercourse
Written by Haley Otman