Physical symptoms after childbirth: prevalence and associations with self-rated health

Posted on: June 8, 2015

BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, February 2005, Vol. 112, pp. 210–217

Erica Schytt, Gunilla Lindmark, Ulla Waldenström

Objective: The aims of the present study were to describe the prevalence of a number of physical symptoms, as described by women themselves, two months and one year after childbirth in a national Swedish sample and to investigate the association between specific symptoms and women’s self-rated health. Design Cohort study. Setting Swedish antenatal clinics.

Population: A total of 2413 women recruited from 593 antenatal clinics in Sweden during three one-week periods evenly spread over one year (1999–2000), representing 54% of women eligible for the study and 76% of those who consented to participate. The representativity of the sample was assessed by comparison with the total Swedish birth cohort of 1999. Methods Data were collected by means of questionnaires in early pregnancy, two months and one year after the birth and from the Swedish Medical Birth Register. Main outcome measures Self-reported symptoms and self-rated health.

Results: Tiredness, headache, neck, shoulder and low back pain were common problems at two months as well as one year after childbirth. At two months, pain from caesarean section, dyspareunia and haemorrhoids were frequent problems, whereas stress incontinence was often reported at one year. Ninety-one percent of the women said self-rated health was ‘very good’ or ‘good’ at two months after birth, and 86% at one year. Low self-rated health was associated with symptoms that affected general physical functioning and well being, such as tiredness, headache, musculoskeletal problems, mastitis, perineal pain, dysuria, stomachache and nausea. Complaints related to more specific situations, such as dyspareunia, constipation and stress incontinence were not associated with self-rated health.

Conclusion: Despite the fact that physical symptoms were common two months and one year after the birth, the vast majority of women rated their health as ‘very good’ or ‘good’.