An Introduction to Incontinence After Childbirth
You’ve recently had a baby – congrats! This is a time of celebration and major changes to your life, especially your body. You may not have anticipated accidental leakage or loss of urine, but urinary incontinence after childbirth is more common than you’d think. In fact, 1 in 3 women who have had a baby will experience urine leakage, so you’re not alone in your discomfort. In this article, we’ll discuss why postpartum incontinence occurs, the relationship between pregnancy, birth, and urinary incontinence, and how you can manage symptoms while strengthening your body.
Urinary incontinence (UI) is more common than you might think, especially during postpartum. According to the Urogynecology Department of the University of Colorado, 4 in 10 women experience UI during and after pregnancy. Women may also experience urinary incontinence due to hormonal changes or postmenopause. Many women feel frustrated or embarrassed when urinary leakage occurs, but rest assured — it’s a very normal part of giving birth and being a postpartum mother.
What Causes Postpartum Incontinence?
During pregnancy, hormonal and anatomical changes in the body can affect a mother's urinary and bowel movements. When you carry a baby, your body produces hormones that stretch the muscles and tissues surrounding the bladder, bowel, and uterus, comprising the pelvic floor muscles. When your baby moves down the birth canal and through the vagina, the pelvic floor stretches and remains stretched for some time after birth. This stretching causes accidental leaks of urine, especially if you jump up and down, cough, or sneeze.
There are many notable risk factors to look out for when it comes to postpartum incontinence. Women who give birth vaginally, especially for their first pregnancy, are more likely to experience urinary leakage. For those who’ve had a cesarean section (C-section), the risk of severe incontinence is reduced from 10% to 5% for the first baby. However, after the third C-section, women are just as likely to develop bladder problems as those who’ve had a vaginal delivery. Women over the age of 35 or who are obese are at a higher risk of developing urinary incontinence after childbirth.
Types of Incontinence Associated with Childbirth
There are two main types of urinary incontinence associated with childbirth, the most common being stress urinary incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when pressure is exerted on the bladder by sudden movements such as laughing, sneezing, or jumping. This pressurizes the bladder sphincter, which is the muscular valve at the bottom of the bladder that controls urine flow. Because these muscles and tissue walls are weakened, it’s much easier for accidents and leaks to occur.
The second most prevalent type of incontinence associated with childbirth is urgency incontinence, or “overactive bladder.” This loss of bladder control triggers that “gotta go” sensation, which persists both day and night. Many women experience both stress incontinence and urgency incontinence.
The Mental and Emotional Effects of Postpartum Incontinence
Although women’s health studies have been conducted, there is no conclusive evidence that urinary incontinence is linked to depression. However, many women who experience postpartum urinary incontinence report feeling shame, embarrassment, and frustration. Anywhere between 6% to 20% of women who give birth experience postpartum depression, which can trigger incontinence from stress. It’s important to know that bladder issues are normal, treatable, and temporary — especially when proper support and treatment are used. Giving birth is a major trauma to the body, and it’s best to take it easy, take it slow, and let your body heal naturally over time.
Ways to Manage Postpartum Incontinence
It’s normal to feel embarrassed or impatient when coping with urinary incontinence, as it could take several weeks or months to get back on track. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to manage urinary leakage and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Shorten your healing time with the following powerful methods:
- Get plenty of rest. First and foremost, take it easy on your pelvic floor. Right after giving birth, your pelvic floor muscles must heal and recover. Ice the area for a few days and take it as easy as possible. Once you’ve rested and are ready to re-strengthen your pelvic area, you can move on to the next steps.
- Exercise your pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic floor muscle exercises such as kegel exercises are a great way to build back your pelvic floor strength. While lying down on your back, start with gentle pelvic floor contractions. As if holding back urine, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles for three seconds, rest for 15 seconds, and repeat three times. Eventually, try to work up to 10-15 kegels a day, holding and squeezing for 10 seconds each.
- Train your bladder. You can train your bladder by gradually extending the time between your bathroom visits. Begin by urinating at regular intervals, such as every 30 minutes, even if you don't feel an urge. Gradually increase the interval time each day, aiming to eventually urinate every 3-4 hours during the day and 4-8 hours at night. This method will help your bladder adjust and return to a regular schedule.
- Hydrate & eat more fiber. When experiencing urinary incontinence, you may be reluctant to increase your water intake due to fear of more frequent bathroom trips. However, keeping your body hydrated is essential during the healing process. Dehydration can also lead to UTIs (urinary tract infections), which are especially common for new mothers. Drink more water, and be sure to limit your fluid intake an hour or so before bed to decrease nighttime bathroom trips. Constipation is another issue that leads to urine leakage after pregnancy. Combat constipation by eating plenty of high-fiber foods such as legumes, whole grains, fruits, and veggies.
- Avoid trigger foods. Despite your cravings, you should aim to avoid common trigger foods that cause urination. These include diuretics such as coffee, excess tea, alcohol, spicy foods, carbonated beverages, citrus, and tomatoes, which can all trigger a bathroom trip.
- Practice healthy habits. It might go without saying, but to avoid urinary leakage after childbirth, one of the best things you can do is maintain a healthy weight. Practice healthy eating habits and incorporate regular exercise to jumpstart your body’s defense system.
- Try physical therapy. Meet with a physical therapist specializing in postpartum care who can provide exercises and strategies to combat your urinary incontinence. These exercises can also address other discomforts that come with postpartum and improve your overall quality of life.
- Consult your doctor. Before making any major lifestyle changes, always chat with your healthcare professional about treatment options. In some severe cases, urinary leakage may be due to extreme conditions that could require surgery, such as pelvic organ prolapse.
- Use products that make you feel confident and worry-free. Although urinary incontinence after pregnancy is inconvenient, you can relax knowing that the problem is temporary. Urine leakage is typically the most severe during the first several weeks after birth. To keep your bladder under control while caring for your newborn, we recommend using the following products:
- TENA Super Plus Protective Underwear for Women - This protective undergarment from TENA looks and feels like your normal underwear but has 40% more absorbency than their standard incontinence liners. It’s discreet, comfortable, and effective.
- Dry Direct Overnight Bladder Control Pads - Our highest-rated pad offers maximum absorbency for extended wear up to 10 hours. Dry Direct provides ample coverage for overnight use, offering twice the absorbency of regular pads.
- Poise Pads Maximum Absorbency - Constructed with BodyFit technology that conforms to your shape, Poise pads are both soft and flexible. They feature Absorb-Loc and Comfort-Dry technology to lock in moisture effectively, ensuring leak-free comfort.
Dry Direct Ultimate Underwear- The best underwear we offer, Dry Direct Ultimate Underwear, is the culmination of years of research and testing. It has 3x the absorbency of anything found in stores, resulting in fewer daily changes for your busy schedule.
Postpartum urinary incontinence is a normal part of life. Thankfully, life-changing products, exercises, and methods are available for new moms struggling to maintain continence. Start exploring to find the best products for your journey into motherhood.