For New Moms, Postpartum Troubles Can Persist

By Deirdre Wilson

Most women will experience physical pain, discomfort and emotional stress shortly after childbirth. But a recent report based on interviews with 903 mothers finds that these problems can last from six to 18 months after birth.

"New Mothers Speak Out," a nationwide survey conducted earlier this year by the maternity support organization Childbirth Connections, chronicles American mothers' experiences in the first 18 months after giving birth. Among the survey’s findings, at six or more months after childbirth:

s="text1">• 43 percent of mothers were still feeling stressed
• 40 percent had problems with weight control
• 34 percent suffered from sleep loss
• 26 percent describe a lack of sexual desire
• 24 percent suffered from backache

s="text1">Among women who had a Cesarean-section delivery, 31 percent reported numbness and 18 percent said pain at the incision site persisted after at least six months.

s="text1">About 44 percent of the mothers surveyed said that, in the first two months after childbirth, their postpartum physical or emotional health interfered with their ability to care for their infant.

s="text1">Most of the mothers surveyed (73 percent) said they provided more of the childcare than their partner or spouse, with about 20 percent reporting their husband or partner provided no or “little” emotional or practical support.

s="text1">And of those mothers who returned to work after childbirth, 48 percent said they hadn’t stayed home with their baby as long as they wanted. Among the major challenges of returning to work:

s="text1">• 79 percent cited being apart from their baby;
• 50 percent had breastfeeding issues;
• 36 percent cited a lack of enough support from their partner or spouse; and
• 29 percent cited a lack of support as a new mother in the workplace.

s="text1">The survey reveals that women are suffering after childbirth for a longer time than many people may have thought, says the report’s author Eugene Declercq, assistant dean of doctoral education and a professor of maternal and child health at the Boston University School of Public Health.

s="text1">Maureen Corry, executive director of Childbirth Connections, says the survey demonstrates that a "continuum" of postpartum care is needed. “Postpartum recovery really does not end at six weeks when women have their follow-up exams with their obstetrician/gynecologist,” Corry says. "Right now, the continuity of care ends after that checkup. After that, a mother is more or less on her own."

But Corry notes that the survey can help women become more aware of what new mothers experience, so that they can better plan for their own experiences by seeking out high-quality childcare, expressing their needs to their employer and seeking help with physical and emotional problems from their health-care provider.

You can read the entire "New Mothers Speak Out" report at

Deirdre Wilson is senior editor at Dominion Parenting Media.