It wasn't that long ago that women felt the need to refer to their period as a fictional friend, and now in 2016, Aussie women are facing yet another taboo: vaginal childbirth-related injuries.
According to new research from Medibank, three in four Australian women who've had vaginal childbirth in the last five years suffered an injury as a result.
Alarming, right? And, go figure, these new mums are going through this in silence.
The research surveyed 1000 women and revealed the most common injuries include perineal tears, haemorrhoids, urinary incontinence and damage to the pelvic floor. Interestingly, such injuries were most common in younger women aged 18 to 29 years old.
These women have the highest incidence of perineal tears (46 percent), which is a tear of the tissue structures within the birth canal.
Medibank medical director Dr Kevin Cheng explains while this injury has been widely associated with vaginal birth, it is only now that they are beginning to understand the alarming prevalence.
"Perineal tears are categorised into four grades, with grade one being minor and grade four being the most severe, often requiring quite a lot of therapy and corrective surgery," Cheng told The Huffington Post Australia.
What's worse is 62 percent of women report they are experiencing symptoms more than one year after birth. And one in five said they didn't have anyone to talk to about their injuries.
As a result of the lack of awareness, Cheng said 20 percent of women delayed seeking treatment for their injuries until they worsened.
"We need to create a safe and supportive environment so that women feel comfortable discussing these injuries," Cheng said.
The role of a supportive partner in these discussions shouldn't be underestimated either. As Cheng explains, working through such issues together, including treatment options, results in a much better outcome.
Cheng explains it is a requirement of good quality anti-natal care that expectant mothers have a conversation with their health provider about the potential injuries as a result of vaginal child birth.
"It's important these injuries are explained in detail before birth and also that the woman is screened during the postpartum period for such injuries as well, particularly because they may not be visible in the days following the birth," Cheng said.
Whether such screening and care is taking place currently is something Cheng said requires more research going forward.
We know that being overweight or obese could increase the risk of having a larger baby, however in terms of whether the size of the baby relates to these findings is something we need to further investigate.
The question of why we are seeing such a high incidence of childbirth-related injuries also needs more investigation. As Cheng explains, it could be due to a combination of things including the size of the baby, a prolonged second stage labour, the positioning of the baby or simply giving birth for the first time.
"We know that being overweight or obese could increase the risk of having a larger baby, however in terms of whether the size of the baby relates to these findings is something we need to further investigate," Cheng said.
The circumstances of couples undergoing IVF also plays a role, with women having a higher likelihood of multiple births.
So, the big question is whether there is something women can be doing to prevent such injuries?
What we do know is that general exercise throughout pregnancy will improve blood flow and muscle tone and supports healthy labour and also having a healthy baby.
"There are some strategies that are being explored with evidence slowly building, however the jury is still out," Cheng said.
These include pelvic floor exercises and also certain positions of birth may support a less stressful labour.
"What we do know is that general exercise throughout pregnancy will improve blood flow and muscle tone and supports healthy labour as well as having a healthy baby."
Cheng explains there have also been strategies that have not been validated and that includes water births and an episiotomy before birth.
As for where we go from here, Cheng said creating awareness is key, particularly due to the fact so many women aren't seeking professional help.
"As well as creating awareness, we encourage further research into this field to validate these findings and really get to the bottom of why this is happening," Cheng said.
And hopefully, in the coming years we'll have some answers.
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