There's a lot of information about pregnancy and caring for a new baby and you're likely to find that everyone's keen to give you advice. But a topic which attracts less conversation is incontinence e.g. loss of bladder or bowel control. Leaking wee is more common than leaking poo, though generally the cause comes down to the same issue loss of tone in the pelvic floor muscles.
No sorry, I can't come out today
Women who experience incontinence often feel miserable, especially when it impacts on being able to socialise. Planning outings based on the availability of toilets is not much fun; neither is managing the hygiene issues of feeling constantly wet and needing to change underwear multiple times a day. But incontinence can be successfully managed and treated and is not a condition which women just need to learn to live with.
Read on to understand more about incontinence and what you can do to retain your bladder function
Oops, I think I peezed!
What is peezing?
Peezing is the involuntary leakage of urine (wee) from the bladder. Peezing is a symptom of Stress Incontinence and mainly peeing at the time of sneezing. Although it can happen during any time of movement like coughing, jumping or running. It's more common when there's an increase in pressure on the muscles which support the pelvic floor.
Generally, incontinence can be divided into three types:
Stress when laughing, coughing, sneezing, lifting or jumping.
Urge having trouble holding on after a sudden urge to wee.
Mixed a combination of both.
As your baby grows, their weight will put added pressure on your bladder which sits underneath your uterus. Most women find incontinence gets worse as their tummy gets bigger and they're closer to their due date. With age and more pregnancies, the pelvic floor muscles become weaker unless pelvic floor exercises are done. It's important to do pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy and to continue after the baby is born.
How common is it?
It's estimated that urinary incontinence affects two out of three pregnant women and one in three women who've had a baby. Studies have shown that around 40% of women with urinary incontinence during pregnancy think that it will improve spontaneously after their baby is born. Though the risks of it continuing are high, depending on how severe their incontinence has been when pregnant.
Generally, bladder (and bowel) problems shortly after birth improve in the first six months. This is due to healing of the pelvic floor and the organs and muscles recovering.
It's worth remembering that pelvic floor exercises help to reduce the risk of both bladder and bowel control problems occurring during pregnancy and after birth.
How would I know if I have a problem?
Some women have issues with incontinence even before they conceive. Being overweight or having damage to their pelvic floor increases the risk of bladder control issues. Though, generally, pregnancy is the first time most women will experience incontinence. Pregnancy hormones also have a softening effect on the muscles, adding to the risk of incontinence and prolapse.
Suspect you have incontinence if you:
- Can t hold onto your wee. This doesn't need to be large amounts, just enough to wet your underpants and to be aware of it.
- Need to wear absorbent pads.
- Can t hold on until you get to the toilet and/or have an urgent need to go.
- Need to go to the toilet frequently.
- Are unsure if you've completely emptied your bladder when you go to the toilet and wee.
- Have pain during sex.
- Feel a lump or dragging sensation in your vagina. This could mean you have a bladder or bowel prolapse.
What can I do stop peezing myself?
- Build up the tone of your pelvic floor, otherwise known as the core . Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel's Exercises, will help the muscles which support your bladder and bowel to work effectively. Though just like any other type of exercise, the more you do them the easier they'll get and the stronger your muscles will become.
- Do your pelvic floor exercises in pregnancy, everyday.
- Drink at least 1.5-2 litres of water each day. Aim to spread your drinks over the whole day. Don't restrict your fluid intake as this could lead to dehydration and kidney infections.
- Limit food and drinks which contain caffeine and sugar; these can irritate the bladder.
- Eat a healthy diet, rich in fibre so you avoid becoming constipated.
- Go the toilet when you feel your bladder if full. This will help you to build healthy tone and sensation. Avoid going just in case which will mean your bladder won't have a chance to expand and fill to a normal capacity.
- Try to be physically active for around 30 minutes on most days. Walking, water aerobics, swimming, cycling on a stationary bike are all good options. Avoid bouncing type exercises.
- Avoid gaining too much weight during your pregnancy. Check here for healthy weight guidelines.
- See your GP or maternity care provider for a referral to a physiotherapist who specialises in pelvic floor function.
Written for Poise by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse 03/06/2021
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Last Published* December, 2022
*Please note that the published date may not be the same as the date that the content was created and that information above may have changed since.