A qualitative study exploring women's personal experiences of their perineum after childbirth: Expectations, reality and returning to normality

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Authors: Way, S.

Journal: Midwifery

Volume: 28

Issue: 5

ISSN: 0266-6138

DOI: 10.1016/j.midw.2011.08.011

Objective: to explore the feelings, perceptions and experiences of women in relation to their perineum following childbirth in the early postnatal period. Design: a qualitative study using grounded theory. Data were collected using diaries and interviews and analysed using constant comparative method. Setting: hospital and community setting in the South of England. Participants: women (n=11) aged 20-42 years who had a vaginal birth. Findings: one core category, 'Striving for normality' and five major categories emerged: (1) 'preparing for the unknown', (2) 'experiencing the unexpected', (3) 'adjusting to reality', (4) 'getting back to normal' and (5) 'recovery of self'. 'Striving for normality' was where women wanted to be able to do normal things and feel like their normal selves soon after the birth of their baby. Much of what the women described doing during the early postnatal period was related to achieving this goal. Key conclusions: the initial impact of childbirth on the perineum and surrounding area meant that in the first few postnatal days women largely concentrated on managing the effects of this. The impact however, went beyond the immediacy of coping with bodily functions extending into other daily activities in terms of managing and completing them. Examples of daily living activities in this context include bathing, eating, walking as well as completing household chores. Returning to normal following childbirth is significant for women and successfully achieving daily living activities is part of this process. However, women in this study seemed unprepared for the reality of this experience. Implications for practice: women may be poorly prepared for the impact that perineal pain and discomfort can have on their lives especially related to successfully completing daily living activities in the early postnatal period. Consideration should be given to finding different ways of communicating the impact to women such as in the early postnatal period, rather than during pregnancy. The underpinning philosophy of care for the postnatal period should encapsulate a holistic approach, where physical symptoms of perineal pain and discomfort experienced by women are not tackled in isolation from any psychosocial impact this may also have. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

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