Mini-Guide: Urinary Incontinence During & After Pregnancy

When you lose urine involuntarily, it is called urinary incontinence. This health condition is common in many women during and following pregnancy. Incontinence can be a pronounced issue, or it can be occasional and moderate. Researchers have found that incontinence during pregnancy is likelier to occur with higher body mass index and age.

This issue with incontinence will not always appear immediately following the birth but could persist afterward. Often, it is not until a woman gets into her forties that she starts to experience bladder trouble.

It is worthwhile to better understand types of bladder leakage you might experience, statistics, and tips for prevention.

Kinds of incontinence that can occur while you're pregnant & thereafter

Stress incontinence is the typical type of urinary incontinence that occurs among women when they are pregnant. This condition involves a sufficient amount of pressure being placed on the bladder to cause urine loss. The sphincter of the bladder (the muscular valve at its base) becomes incapable of retaining urine because of this stress.

Overactive bladder (OAB) also gives rise to urinary incontinence. Due to involuntary spasming within the bladder, urination must take place more frequently when someone is suffering from OAB. It is also possible that muscles adjacent to the urethra (tube carrying urine out of your bladder) are impacted. While the muscles are essentially a defense against incontinence, it is possible for substantial contractions to overcome that protection.

The sphincter is charged with determining if and when urine leaves the bladder. Increased bladder stress that results from the uterus's expansion during pregnancy can get to a level that the pelvic floor and sphincter muscles are incapable of providing complete support. Even if a pregnant woman sneezes or coughs, she might experience a release of urine.

Issues with incontinence may continue following pregnancy -- especially since OAB can result from weakening of muscles in the pelvic floor during the birth. Urinary incontinence can also take place when nerves managing the bladder become damaged, due to movement of the bladder and urethra, or because of an episiotomy (an incision in the muscles of the pelvic floor made during childbirth to provide an easier exit for the fetus).

Statistics on urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is very common for mothers, particularly those who gave birth vaginally. A study in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women were likelier to experience leakage one year following a birth if they had given birth vaginally than if they had a C-section.

Urogynecology researcher Roger Goldberg, MD, notes that issues with leakage could arise for up to half of women when the pregnancy and childbirth are normal and healthy.

The good news is that the majority of people who suffer from bladder leakage recover in the first twelve months postpartum. The bad news is that between one-third and one-half of women are still experiencing incontinence periodically five years following the birth. Incontinence is disruptive to social situations in 10-20 percent of cases.

How to free yourself of leakage

To keep yourself from experiencing urinary incontinence during pregnancy, here are three simple self-care tips:

#1. Manage your weight.

Some amount of weight gain during pregnancy is healthy. However, research suggests that bladder leakage is likelier to occur among women who are heavier when they become pregnant or who add an extreme number of pounds while pregnant.

#2. Take bathroom breaks at set times.

It is necessary during pregnancy to take trips to the restroom more regularly than you otherwise would. A general rule of thumb is setting bathroom breaks at two-hour intervals. By scheduling in regular use of the facilities, you will avoid situations in which bladder pressure rises.

#3. Do Kegels.

A woman can use Kegel exercises to improve her pelvic floor muscular strength and prevent incontinence. One scientific review reports that women using Kegel exercises during their first pregnancy had less issues of incontinence while they were pregnant and following arrival of the baby. Pelvic floor exercises were also effective for minimizing postpartum bladder leakage among women who were experiencing it.

The identification of the muscles used in Kegel exercises is best understood by stopping urination. Those same muscles are used in a Kegel, which you can perform at any time during your daily routine.  

Contract the muscles that are used to block urine flow. Maintain the contraction for 10 seconds. Release it. At two or three points during your day, do 10 to 20 of these exercises, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Generally, it will take someone performing these exercises a month or two before they start to see an impact.

Getting help

Are you suffering from urinary incontinence? You may need to go beyond the self-care approaches described above. At Southeast Urogyn, we offer a variety of treatments to restore normal flow. See our testimonials & reviews.

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