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A few weeks ago, I was watching a video by the hilarious Laura Clery. In it, she discusses all the random things you hear pregnant women bring up in conversation while carrying their babies.
I peed a little.
I wish I could say that I didn’t understand the continual references to her weak bladder; the uncomfortable reality is that I DEFINITELY did.
As do most women who’ve carried a six-to-ten-pound baby inside their body.
Regrettably, while we might wish those little slips of urine would come to an end after our baby has joined us earthside, the truth of the matter is they often don’t.
Whether you’re dealing with mild postpartum incontinence or a complete loss of bladder control after childbirth, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to get your pelvic floor back in tip-top shape and prevent those untimely “slips” from occurring.
What is Postpartum Incontinence?
As if the weird early pregnancy symptoms we deal with aren’t enough, bladder problems after childbirth seem to be par for the course. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of the situation, many women still find themselves wondering, “What is postpartum incontinence?”
Generally speaking, postpartum incontinence refers to leaking urine. Calling it a leak, however, doesn’t always cover it. Some women feel like they experience more of a “dribble,” while others struggle with a full release of urine.
There are three common types of incontinence after pregnancy:
- Stress Urinary Incontinence: This type of urine loss occurs when a woman exerts herself somehow: usually by exercising, running, laughing, sneezing, or coughing.
- Urgency Urinary Incontinence: Rather than spontaneous leaks, this type of postpartum incontinence describes more of an actual sensation. Women who deal with this have the sudden urge to use the bathroom and may leak on the way there.
- Mixed Incontinence: Just as it sounds, if you’re dealing with mixed incontinence, you’re struggling with both stress and urgency urinary incontinence.
What Causes Incontinence After Pregnancy?
It should come as no surprise, but the process of carrying and delivering a baby causes some *ahem* changes to your body…and why wouldn’t it?
After all, there was a literal human growing inside your abdomen.
To make more room for themselves (babies are greedy little creatures, aren’t they?), they tend to squish and flatten most of your vital organs. It would seem crazy to assume our bodies don’t have some type of negative response after all of that.
Since babies often like to use our bladders as pillows during their stays in Hotel Uterus, it makes sense that the added pressure would cause increased urinary urgency and leaks.
For most women, their bladder situation does return to normal within a few weeks of delivering their baby.
For others, the postpartum incontinence problems like to stick around on a more permanent basis, but why? What are the precise reasons that pregnancy and childbirth have such a severe effect on our bladders?
Here are four of the most common reasons women have to deal with incontinence after childbirth:
- Normal “Wear and Tear”: Throughout pregnancy, our pelvic muscles become weakened and stretched. Many women recover from these changes quickly, but it can take others much longer.
- Pelvic Organ Prolapse: Occasionally, when a woman’s bladder becomes weak, it can slip out of position. This causes a condition known as cystocele that leads to postpartum incontinence.
- Pelvic Nerve Damage: If you dealt with a long and challenging vaginal delivery, there’s a chance the pelvic nerves responsible for your bladder can experience damage.
- Childbirth-Related Injury: Did your doctor have to use forceps or other intense delivery methods to birth your child safely? These can cause injuries to your anal sphincter and pelvic floor muscles. Another common delivery injury stems from prolonged pushing, which can cause damaged pelvic nerves.
Incontinence After Childbirth Statistics: How Common is this Problem?
Are you wondering how common this problem is?
You’re not alone because I was, too! Thankfully, some incredible scientists have researched the situation and have some eye-opening incontinence after childbirth statistics you should know:
- Approximately 4-in-10 women deal with urinary incontinence throughout pregnancy.
- Only around 10.1% of women who have never delivered a baby deal with urinary incontinence throughout their lives.
- About 15.9% of women who delivered via a cesarean section experienced postpartum incontinence.
- Nearly 21% of women who delivered vaginally struggle with bladder problems after childbirth.
- Women who deliver vaginally are 2 to 3 times more likely to have urinary incontinence problems than ones who’ve never delivered a baby.
- Approximately 5% of women still struggle with postpartum incontinence more than a year after childbirth.
Do Some Women Experience Complete Loss of Bladder Control After Childbirth?
Due to possible pelvic nerve damage and prolapsed organs, a complete loss of bladder control after childbirth may occur. If you’re struggling with near-constant urinary leaks, bedwetting, and extreme urgency, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
Signs You Might Be Struggling with Postpartum Incontinence
Aside from the occasional cough-pee or laugh-pee, there are some other signs that you could be dealing with incontinence after childbirth.
- A feeling of pressure in your pelvic area, causing a sudden need to pee
- Spasms in your pelvic area that can cause mild leaking or the urge to pee
- Needing to use the bathroom more than usual (more than eight times a day or twice at night)
- Wetting the Bed
- Inability to Hold Your Urine Before Reaching the Bathroom
Solving Your Bladder Problems After Childbirth
Other times, incontinence issues might stick around for the long haul.
It’s important to realize that postpartum incontinence is not a disease. Instead, it’s a symptom of something else. So to treat bladder problems after childbirth, the first thing you should do is figure out what’s causing them in the first place.
Always start your treatment by making an appointment with your doctor and expressing your concerns.
From there, if your doctor says it’s okay, there are a few things you can try on your own to remedy the issues.
Ahh, Kegels – the bread and butter when it comes to pelvic floor health. While there are certainly other pelvic floor exercises for incontinence, Kegels are always a great starting point for treating your postpartum body’s bladder problems.
If, by chance, you’ve missed the Kegels conversation before now, you might be wondering what they are and how to do them. Fret not, we’ve got you covered.
Kegels, also known as pelvic floor muscle training, work out your pelvic area to support your uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum.
One of the best things about Kegels is you can essentially do them any time, any place!
But, how do you do Kegels? Like this:
- Identify Your Pelvic Muscles: Before you start working out your pelvic muscles, you need to figure out what they are…how do you do this, you might be wondering? Simple, force yourself to stop peeing midstream! The muscles used for this action are your pelvic floor muscles.
- Use the “Marble Technique”: A great example of how to do a Kegel is to imagine you’re sitting on a marble. Then, tighten those pelvic muscles as if you were trying to lift that marble up. Once you have your imaginary marble lifted, hold that position for three seconds and then release for three seconds. Repeat.
- Stay Focused: Maintain your focus throughout each of your Kegels and try to avoid tightening other areas, such as your abdomen or buttocks.
- Try to Do Three Sets of 10, Three Times a Day.
When we’re talking about bladder problems, you might assume anything poop-related wouldn’t be a part of the conversation. Strangely, though, they can go hand-in-hand.
After all, when you’re constipated, you end up struggling and pushing to poop. Unfortunately, all of this extra strain can lead to more postpartum incontinence trouble.
Losing weight after childbirth isn’t just about fitting into your first postpartum swimsuit.
Extra weight, while completely normal (absolutely no judgement here, mama!!) can also play a role in treating your bladder problems after childbirth since extra weight can place increased pressure on your bladder.
Pelvic Floor Exercises for Incontinence
In addition to Kegels, experts believe that many different exercises and stretches can help strengthen your pelvic floor. Based on information from a professional trainer, some of the most popular ones include:
If some of these more homeopathic options don’t work, it might be time to consider medical treatments with your doctor to resolve your postpartum incontinence.
There are several different surgical and nonsurgical options available, such as:
It’s Time to Get Your Pelvic Floor Back in Shape
Let’s face it; most of us don’t want to deal with bladder problems after childbirth. I mean, really, how enjoyable is it to worry about peeing yourself every time you laugh or sneeze?!
Thankfully, there are plenty of easy ways to treat your incontinence after pregnancy.
Whether you’re thinking about trying pelvic floor exercises like Kegels or medication, bringing an end to your pelvic floor trouble might not be as difficult as it seems.
So, if you’re tired of those little slips and dribbles, why not give one of these great tips a try?
If you’ve had to deal with postpartum incontinence in the past, how long did it last? How did you treat it?
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.