Women's health after childbirth: a longitudinal study in France and Italy


Correspondence: Dr M.-J. Saurel-Cubizolles, INSERM Unit 149, 16 avenue Paul Vaillant Couturier, 94807 Villejuif Cedex, France.


Objective To describe the prevalence of various symptoms five months and twelve months after childbirth in two European countries, according to employment, financial difficulties and relationship with partner.

Design Longitudinal multicentre survey with a similar design in France and Italy. Women were interviewed three times: at birth and twice after childbirth. At 12 months after childbirth, the survey was postal in both countries.

Population Women who had been delivered of their first or second baby in three maternity units in France and five units in Italy. Women who had multiple pregnancies, a stillbirth or known neonatal death were excluded.

Results The response rates were 83% in France and 88% in Italy. Fifteen symptoms were considered. The results were similar in the two countries and showed that the prevalence of most symptoms was higher at 12 months than at five months after childbirth. When their baby was one year old, more than half of the women reported backache, anxiety and extreme tiredness. Around one-third of women reported headache, lack of sexual desire, sleep disorders and depression. Piles, constipation and painful intercourse were also common. One year postpartum women with financial problems or a difficult relationship reported poor psychological health more frequently.

Conclusion Physical and emotional problems are common after birth, and they tend to increase over time. Backache, headache and piles can seriously interfere with day-to-day life. Sexual problems also may be a source of unhappiness for the woman and her partner. Extreme tiredness, anxiety and depression may make a woman feel guilty for not corresponding to the image of a healthy, happy and well-coping mother. There is a link between financial problems or a difficult relationship with her partner and her own wellbeing. Health professionals should be aware of the high prevalence of health problems among new mothers, and of the social context of women who are more likely to suffer from them. They should counsel the women in their care, in order to help them to find the best solution, be it medical or social in nature.