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Our Mothers Deserve Better!

A petition calling for improved pelvic floor care for New Zealand women, pre and post birth, will be presented on the steps of parliament on June 24th at 1pm.

Last year more than 55,000 people signed a similar online petition created by Kirsty Watt, a personal trainer who strongly believes women aren't receiving the care they need after giving birth. Watt was asking for the Government to improve pre and post birth care for women. Her petition made a huge impact, not only on New Zealand women themselves, but also professionals within the health sector.

As a result, a new multidisciplinary group of health care professionals was formed, together with Watt they worked collaboratively to create a new petition and written submission to parliament.

Watt reflects on why it was so important to take this next step, “After many discussions with mothers from all different areas and backgrounds it became clear that there was no standard level of care for mums postnatally, and this had not changed in years. It got to the point that the frustration grew from hearing the same problems happening and we needed to say something and do something about it, as otherwise, it would never change,”

“The support for the petition has been incredible, but reading the comments and stories show that it's more problematic than I could even imagine, which has been incredibly sad but motivating to do better for our wāhine. Women Deserve better.”

Don Wilson, an Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Otago has been chairing this group, he is the principal petitioner alongside Watt. He feels strongly that the Government can improve the situation. “We should be providing better preventative education, assessments and physiotherapy treatment to prevent and minimise the costs to women and our health system. Pelvic floor disorders related to pregnancy and childbirth have been described as ‘the hidden burden of women’s ill health’. They are extremely common, approximately one in three women will experience urinary incontinence, one in ten faecal incontinence, one in twelve pelvic organ prolapse and one in five sexual dysfunction following childbirth. These pelvic floor disorders reach ‘epidemic proportions’ in later life with 46 percent of women having at least one major type of these problems.”

Professor Wilson says in addition to the effect on the quality of life, these problems also have a financial burden for many women, their whānau and the NZ health service.

“Pregnancy is an ideal opportunity to implement prevention strategies and in particular pelvic health physiotherapy and pelvic floor muscle training [PFMT], which is by far the most cost-effective intervention for treating mild to moderate incontinence and prolapse. However, these prevention strategies are not routinely discussed in pregnancy and after delivery,” he adds.

“Our aim, with better education and physiotherapy assessments and treatments, is to prevent, and minimise, the costs of these problems for women and our health system.”

This would involve all maternity care providers [pelvic health physiotherapists, continence nurse specialists, midwives, GPs and practice nurses] working together and [with appropriate funding] in partnership to provide multidisciplinary care to achieve this goal.

The petition also calls for increased funding for Continence NZ, which runs a free helpline staffed by experienced continence nurses. It also has a comprehensive website, provides community education sessions and Pelvic Floor Focus workshops for fitness professionals.

Continence NZ CEO, Louise Judd, highlights that the petition has clearly resonated with New Zealand women.

“There is already so much to juggle during pregnancy and post birth. Navigating the health system can be an additional challenge at a particularly vulnerable time.”

Judd says Continence NZ’s helpline team can provide women with the information and advice that they need to enhance their wellbeing, and support them in accessing the appropriate professional support for their individual situation.

“We are developing a pregnancy guide that will be released in November, to coincide with the New Zealand College of Midwives 16th Biennial National Conference. The guide will provide essential advice during pregnancy and post birth, however, this guide is only one aspect of the work required. A multidisciplinary approach to pelvic health care is critical if we are to enhance outcomes for women.”

The petition is being presented to Parliament on Thursday 24 June, during World Continence Week. Media are welcome to attend. This will occur at 1pm, on the steps of Parliament.

See the full online petition here: https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-health-improve-physical-maternal-health-care-for-our-mothers-post-labour

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