Giving birth can be as traumatic to the body as extreme endurance sports

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Everybody knows that giving birth is a taxing experience for the body (it isn’t called “labor” for nothing, as the old adage goes). But a new study coming out of the University of Michigan demonstrates just how traumatic the labor process can be. The study found that a quarter of women surveyed suffered stress fractures similar to the ones exhibited by athletes. Forty-one percent had pelvic muscle tears, with the muscle detaching fully or partially from the pelvic bone, and two-thirds sustained injuries akin to severe muscle strain. The women included in the sample were at an increased risk for pelvic muscle tears, so the findings are not representative of most expectant mothers. But researchers nevertheless estimate that as many as 15 percent of women suffer from birth injuries that do not heal, and that are not ameliorated by the Kegel exercises normally prescribed by doctors.

The study upends conventional medical wisdom, which dictates that most postpartum injuries are nerve-to-muscle related — a classification that would not include, for example, the detaching of muscle from a pelvic bone. So when studying injuries sustained by women during the labor process, researchers relied on an MRI technique that is typically used to diagnose sports injuries, but very rarely applied to women who have recently given birth. “If an athlete sustained a similar injury in the field, she’d be in an MRI machine in an instant,” said Janis Miller, the lead researcher of the study. “We have this thing where we tell women, ‘Well, you’re six weeks postpartum, and now we don’t need to see you — you’ll be fine.’ But not all women feel fine after six weeks nor are ready to go back to work, and they aren’t crazy.”

Miller hopes that the study’s findings will help encourage a more individualized approach to treating postpartum injuries. “We’re not saying that every woman who gives birth needs an MRI nor that women should not do Kegel exercises,” she said. “A key point is that if a woman is sensing that she has delayed recovery or unusual symptoms of discomfort or feels she just can’t Kegel anymore, she should see a specialist.”

Read more at Vox.

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