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Elective Caesarean sections have become more common in recent years, in part because many women and doctors believe that vaginal birth is a major risk factor for urinary incontinence.

But a new study [published 12/05 Obstetrics and Gynecology] has found no support for this belief.

Researchers sampled 143 pairs of postmenopausal biological sisters.
In each pair, one had had a vaginal delivery and one had never had a baby. They completed questionnaires concerning symptoms of pelvic floor disorders, and 101 of the pairs were given clinical evaluations for urinary incontinence.

The results ran counter to the conventional legend: 49.7 percent of the women who had given birth suffered some urinary incontinence, but so did 47.6 percent of their sisters, reflecting a difference that was statistically insignificant.

The researchers concluded that in postmenopausal women family factors were more associated with urinary incontinence than with having had a vaginal delivery.

Dr. Gunhilde M. Buchsbaum, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of obstetrics at the University of Rochester, said she doubted that these results would affect clinical practice.

“People have strong feelings and opinions about elective C-section one way or the other,” she said. “For that reason, I doubt that the findings of our study will change any minds.”

The authors acknowledged that they did not determine the age at which incontinence began, and that incontinence might occur earlier in women who delivered vaginally. The authors also pointed out that their finding pertained to white women only.

[ By NICHOLAS BAKALAR; 13Dec05; N Valko RN, 19Dec05]