It’s not something your friends and family are likely to bring up at your baby shower, but urinary incontinence is a common (and annoying) side effect of pregnancy and childbirth. Here are five things you need to know about what to expect, and how to regain bladder control after you’ve given birth.
It starts during the third trimester.
Your bladder is supported by a network of muscles, nerves, and tissues that are weakened during pregnancy and labor. Normally, those pelvic muscles contract when pressure is placed on the bladder, preventing urine from leaking.
During the third trimester, the weight of your uterus places excessive pressure on your bladder and pelvic floor muscles. This, in addition to hormones produced by the body that make your tissues and joints more elastic for delivery, significantly weakens the pelvic floor muscles. That’s when you might start to notice leakage whenever you laugh hard, cough, sneeze, or exercise
It doesn’t always go away after giving birth.
Most women notice a stop in urinary incontinence soon after delivery — but that’s not always the case. More than one third of new moms continue to leak urine postpartum. It can often take between three and six months to regain bladder control, but for some, urinary leakage persists for up to a year.
Women who have C-sections experience it too.
Women who opt for vaginal delivery have a higher likelihood of persistent urinary incontinence after giving birth. However, some moms who give birth via C-section also continue to experience urinary leakage in the months following delivery.
Kegel exercises can help.
Like any set of muscles, your pelvic floor can benefit from regular exercise. After pregnancy, try to do 30 Kegel exercises per day. Make sure to do them correctly: Only activate the pelvic floor muscles (not the abs or glutes), breathe regularly, and work in sets (for example, three sets of 10 per day).
Other lifestyle changes, like avoiding caffeine, shedding baby weight as quickly as possible to take pressure off the bladder, and self-bladder training can help you regain control of your bladder faster.
It’s not something you have to “just live with.”
If six months pass and you’re still wearing panty liners every day, talk to a doctor about physical therapy or surgery. Urinary incontinence after childbirth is not an inconvenience you have to simply “live with,” and it can be prevented with minimally invasive surgical procedures. And remember that you’re not alone: 40 percent of women in the U.S. [ed. Note: this will link back to the other TWCAPS post on female UI] are affected by urinary incontinence each year.
If you or a loved one have experienced frequent urinary leakage after childbirth, call The Woman’s Center For Advanced Pelvic Surgery to make an appointment with one of our board-certified urogynecologists or physical therapists. We’re happy to answer your questions and find the treatment option that’s right for you.
Dr. Ryan Stratford is board-certified in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (FPMRS) as well as Obstetrics and Gynecology (Ob/Gyn) with a wealth of clinical and research experience. Learn More about Dr. Stratford