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All About Postpartum Incontinence

A new baby brings a lot of changes, from nighttime feedings to the joy of watching a new life develop.

Giving birth also results in changes to your body, and for some women, that includes problems with incontinence. 

The most common is stress urinary incontinence or SUI. This is the involuntary leakage of urine due to abdominal pressure—like sneezing, coughing, laughing, or exercising. This is a common gynecological condition, and studies have found that SUI is very common in women having their first child.1

Here’s what you need to know about postpartum incontinence, and what you can do about it.

Postpartum Incontinence Is Common

If you’ve had a baby and you’re suffering from leaking urine, or SUI, you’re not alone. 

In one study looking at women who had their first child, the incidence of SUI was 32%. The problems may start earlier than that, as this study also reported that 25% to 55% of pregnant women have symptoms of urinary incontinence.1 That makes sense as the growing baby and enlarged uterus puts pressure on the bladder below it. This extra stress on the bladder makes it easy for any type of extra pressure, like laughing or sneezing, to cause a urine leak.2

Any woman who has had children may face SUI issues. Pregnancy and childbirth are directly related to the onset and development of SUI. Pregnant women with urine leakage symptoms during pregnancy are more than twice as likely to have urine leakage again within 15 years after delivery than pregnant women without urine leakage symptoms during pregnancy.1

The damage caused to the pelvic floor can cause SUI, or bowel incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse, which is when a pelvic organ drops from its regular position in the pelvis. That’s because pregnancy and childbirth can cause those important pelvic floor muscles to stretch and weaken. 

The pelvic floor is the structure of muscles and ligaments that span the bottom of your pelvis and support your pelvic organs—the bladder, bowel, uterus and intestines. We don’t often know about them—or don’t think about them— until there’s a problem, like when they weaken during pregnancy and childbirth and that creates issues with bladder and bowel control.

There are other risk factors to developing SUI during and after pregnancy, including a prolonged and difficult labor, undergoing an episiotomy, and the use of forceps. It’s also possible that over time and with age, the effect of injury during childbirth is added to the aging and weakening of the pelvic muscles, resulting in incontinence or prolapse.2 However, SUI is not a normal part of aging and it can be treated. 

What Can I Do About Postpartum Incontinence? 

It is generally considered normal for you to have a certain degree of incontinence right after childbirth. Symptoms should improve as your body heals, but some women find it persists. If you have symptoms of postpartum incontinence, see your doctor, as there are treatments that can help.3

One of the best ways to treat urinary or bowel incontinence is by performing pelvic floor exercises known as Kegels, which help to strengthen the muscles in the pelvis. Exercising these muscles during pregnancy has been shown to decrease incontinence during pregnancy and right after delivery.2

Research has proven that pelvic floor exercises help keep pelvic floor muscles “fit.” They can be used as an effective treatment for women suffering with issues like stress urinary incontinence, or as a preventive measure. Don’t wait to have a baby! Even women who aren’t pregnant should include Kegels in their daily routine, as strengthening the pelvic floor can also improve your sexual health and help improve your orgasms.4

Kegels involve tightening and then releasing the muscles in your pelvic floor to strengthen them. It’s important to do them properly, and there are tools available to help you. The INNOVO Urinary Incontinence Kit consists of “smart shorts” that are designed to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles from the inside out. Using them, you perform 180 perfect Kegels in 30 minutes. Subscribe to the INNOVO newsletter to receive a $20 discount code for your purchase.

Your treatment plan may also include pelvic health physical therapy—which could involve biofeedback and other therapies along with strengthening the pelvic floor muscles—or a visit to a pelvic floor occupational therapist to help with lifestyle strategies.  

See A Doctor 

If you have symptoms of postpartum incontinence, don’t suffer in silence. Use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health. There are effective treatments for SUI that can help you get back to normal.

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