Stress incontinence after birth

stress incontinence

Do you sometimes pee when you don’t mean to?

When you become pregnant, your hormones change and the muscles and areas in your pelvic floor and around your womb can become more stretchy, as can other ligaments in your body. The weight of your growing baby also leads to a bigger strain on these areas and the process of giving birth adds yet more strain.

If you have a long labour or a forceps delivery, you may be at more risk of incontinence. If you have had an epidural, you may not feel the need to pee for a few days after the birth and having a catheter can also cause problems. These will usually sort themselves out quite quickly.

Before pregnancy, you can usually control your pelvic floor muscles and can squeeze the muscles around your urethra to stop the flow of pee when you try. However, pregnancy, labour and birth can mean that this is no longer possible. You may even find that you are unable to control when pee leaks out – this is called urinary incontinence. Occasionally you may have what is called an “overactive bladder” which means you will pee more frequently than normal. This is due to the pregnancy hormones and will revert once you have had the baby.

This will mean that you have to be extra careful when you

  • Laugh
  • Sneeze or cough
  • Run or move quickly
  • Lift anything

For some women, it’s just a couple of drops. For others – well, you wouldn’t want to be out in the supermarket.

Am I unusual?

Stress incontinence is one of the most frequent things to happen to women after having a baby. So don’t worry, you’re not alone!

What can I do about it?

If you have just had your baby, you will be bleeding quite a bit for up to a couple of weeks after the birth – this is called lochia and is normal. You will need to wear sanitary towels (not tampons) and these are usually special maternity versions which are thicker and more absorbent than normal ones. So these will easily soak up and little accidents too.

How do I start doing pelvic floor exercises? Find out here.

If you continue to have urinary incontinence after this has finished, you can find some specialist products for women for urinary incontinence. Look for those that are slim and will not show under clothing. Several different types of products are available, from small pads to full pants. These will give you peace of mind and confidence that you are not going to be caught out in an embarrassing position.

How long does urinary incontinence last?

There is no one answer to this and it varies according to the reasons behind your incontinence and how good your pelvic floor muscles were before you got pregnant. Generally, most women will have got themselves back on track by their six week post-natal checkup but if you have not, it’s time to talk to your doctor and get some advice on what you can do. Don’t feel that you just have to put up with it.

Can I do something to help myself heal?

Yes, absolutely. As soon as you can after the birth, start to do your pelvic floor exercises again. You may find it takes a while but you will be able to locate and start to squeeze those muscles again. Do them three times a day, or as often as you remember. Start with a few at a time and work up to stronger squeezes, more often. If you’re sore or have had stitches, take it easy but don’t put it off – the increased blood flow as you exercise will help you heal.

What else can I do?

There are now some good pelvic floor exercise aids. From devices you squeeze to weights, there are things out there to help you.

Key tips:

  • Keep drinking the water! You need to drink plenty of fresh water, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Aim for eight glasses per day. Your bladder got squeezed when your baby was inside you, so try to hold out longer and longer between each pee.
  • Avoid caffeine – this can irritate your bladder.
  • Ask about physiotherapist or get a referral to a continence nurse.
  • Make sure you don’t have an infection – this can cause similar feelings. If you have pain, cloudy urine that smells unpleasant or keep needing to pee, you may have a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

Read all about your pelvic floor after childbirth

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