As if our bodies don’t go through enough changes during pregnancy and childbirth, many of us also have to deal with urinary incontinence. For many women, sneezing, coughing, laughing or having sex—during and after pregnancy—is enough to trigger a leak. Why does this happen and what can we do about it? Here are some answers:
WHY URINARY INCONTINENCE HAPPENS
During pregnancy, the pressure of the baby on the bladder is enough to cause most women to experience at least some urinary incontinence. This incontinence may be infrequent and mild. However, urinary incontinence may continue after childbirth and even if women do not experience it right away, they may develop it later in life.
Specifically, incontinence may continue after childbirth because of weakening of the pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy, which causes the bladder to become overactive. Incontinence also occurs because of damage—during pregnancy and childbirth—to the nerves that control the bladder, shifting of the urethra and bladder during pregnancy, and as a result of episiotomy, which is a surgical cut made in the pelvic floor muscle before natural delivery, to allow the baby to come out more easily.
Who’s most likely to suffer from urinary incontinence after pregnancy?
- Those who give birth vaginally are more likely to have the problem than women who deliver by cesarean section. That said, even some moms who avoid labor altogether and have a scheduled c-section continue to have stress incontinence after delivery.
- Some studies show that having an assisted vaginal delivery, particularly with the use of forceps, contributes to urinary problems after childbirth. And some studies, but not all, have found that having a prolonged pushing stage or a large baby makes stress incontinence more likely.
- Women who are obese are about four times as likely to have stress incontinence, and smokers are at greater risk too.
- Recent research suggests that genetic predisposition may play a role as well.
- The chance of having urinary incontinence is also higher for mothers who have had many children, especially if they delivered vaginally. However,women who have reached menopause experience incontinence in similar numbers regardless of the number of pregnancies they had or the type of delivery.
Most women who develop stress incontinence during pregnancy find that it goes away soon after delivery. For some moms, the leaking stops completely or becomes much less frequent within a few weeks of giving birth, while for others it can persist in varying degrees for several months or even longer.
Some have urinary incontinence again (or develop it for the first time) years later, since the problem becomes more common as women age.
REMEDIES FOR INCONTINENCE
- Behavioral Training: This method consists of stretching out the intervals at which you go to the bathroom each time you have the urge. For instance, when you feel the need to urinate, wait 10 minutes for the first week; then 15 minutes the second week, and so forth. You can also schedule bathroom breaks every hour and stretch those out over time in order to retrain your bladder.
- Kegel exercises: Kegel exercises (named after Dr. Arnold Kegel) are used to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which weaken during pregnancy and childbirth (natural and C-sections). These exercises are done by contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles—repeating several times during the day, everyday.
- Medical Intervention: If the incontinence is persistent and severe and does not get better after about six weeks of behavioral training and Kegel exercises, consult with your doctor.
Urinary incontinence is a condition that should not be left untreated or it will lead to long-term problems. With some effort, you can enjoy a leakage-free life again!