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Post-Pregnancy Wellness: Managing Stress Urinary Incontinence with Effective Treatments
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September 27, 2023
Dr Hina

1 in 3 women experience urinary incontinence in the first 3 months after birth. However, despite its commonality, postpartum urinary incontinence is widely talked about. According to The Guardian, women “are too afraid, ashamed or embarrassed to draw attention to their pelvic problems after childbirth.”

In this article, we aim to shed a light on postpartum urinary incontinence by sharing the risk factors, symptoms, and effective treatments.

What is Postpartum Urinary Incontinence?

Postpartum urinary incontinence is when a woman unintentionally passess urine after birth. It is widely experienced by postpartum women, particularly those who had a vaginal or forceps delivery. If left untreated, it could result in long-term urinary incontinence. However, most women find that the issue resolves itself with time and as their body heals.

The Two Types of Urinary Incontinence

There are two types of urinary incontinence:

Stress Incontinence: this is the most common type of urinary incontinence experienced by women. Stress incontinence is caused by weak pelvic floor muscles putting pressure on the bladder, making it work harder. Women with stress incontinence find that everyday actions such as coughing, sneezing, or laughing may cause bladder leaks. Physical activities  such as running, jumping, or playing sports, can also worsen symptoms.

Urge Incontinence: this is where women have a strong and sudden urge to urinate (often before they can get to a bathroom). Women with urge incontinence often feel the need to go to the loo more than eight times a day. Another name for urge incontinence is “overactive bladder”. This condition tends to be more common in older women and can come on suddenly, whether you’re asleep, having a drink, socialising with friends, or near the sound of running water.

Common Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence

Women struggling with postpartum urinary incontinence experience many of the following symptoms:

Common Risk Factors of Postpartum Urinary Incontinence

Women are more likely to experience postpartum urinary incontinence if they experience any of the following:

Bladder Issues During Pregnancy

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Approximately 40% to over half of people experience bladder control problems during pregnancy. It’s most common in the third trimester, when the foetus is heaviest and places the most pressure on your bladder, but incontinence can happen at any stage.”

Vaginal Delivery vs C Section

Women who have a natural vaginal delivery are more likely to experience postpartum urinary incontinence. This is because the baby has to pass through a very small space, putting a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor muscles.

Vaginal deliveries do carry a higher risk of incontinence vs C sections, however many women can overcome the symptoms a few months into their postpartum recovery by doing the appropriate exercises.

A High BMI During and After Pregnancy

Women who have a high BMI during pregnancy and retain much of their weight gain after the birth of their baby are more likely to experience urinary incontinence. Healthy postpartum weight loss decreases this risk as it reduces the pressure being placed on the pelvic floor muscles.

Delivering a Big Baby

When a woman is expected to deliver a big baby, their risk of experiencing postpartum urinary incontinence increases. This is because delivering a big baby vaginally can put a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. It can also increase the likelihood of an instrumental delivery which again can cause damage to the pelvic floor muscles and nerves.

Pelvic Floor Trauma

Some women experience pelvic floor trauma after childbirth. Pelvic floor trauma is where the muscles, nerves or tissues of the pelvic floor have become damaged during childbirth. This damage can affect the function of the pelvic floor. The most common types of pelvic floor trauma include:

Mechanical Injury: this type of pelvic floor injury results from the head of the baby putting pressure on, forcibly moving, or even tearing the tissues of the pelvic floor. A mechanical injury to the pelvic floor is often the result of a traumatic birth or forceps delivery.

Indirect Injury: there are numerous physiological and hormonal changes women go through during pregnancy that can cause the pelvic floor to relax. This can weaken the pelvic floor and make it increasingly difficult for the muscles to hold a woman’s increasing body weight as her pregnancy progresses.

Nerve Injury: the main nerve supplying the pelvic floor muscles can become damaged during the birth process. This could be the result of a prolonged labour, an instrumental delivery, or a big baby.

How to Treat Postpartum Urinary Incontinence

Despite how common urinary incontinence is for postpartum women, it is very treatable. The treatment you undertake will depend on the kind of incontinence you are struggling with and how severe your symptoms are.

Let’s take a look at the common urinary incontinence treatments.

Femlift

Urinary incontinence issues can typically be treated with the right exercises and care. However, a woman’s body goes through a lot during birth and the postpartum period and the body needs every bit of help it can get!

This is where Femlift comes in helpful. Femlift is the postpartum pregnancy treatment for women helping to restore the pelvic support structure and provide relief.

This treatment is not invasive in any way and it does not require surgery. It involves treating the vaginal walls and strengthening the pelvic muscles to support restored urinary incontinence.

Postpartum Pelvic Floor Exercises

Womens’ pelvic floor muscles are usually very weak after giving birth. This is because the muscles need to stretch and move to make way for the baby during a vaginal delivery. The pelvic floor muscles are also under a lot of pressure during a woman’s pregnancy as the weight of the baby constantly presses against them, making urinary incontinence more likely.

Strengthening the pelvic floor after birth is an essential part of postpartum recovery and care, reducing your risk of urinary incontinence. It is recommended that you exercise your pelvic floor at least twice a day to strengthen the muscles after birth. Women should continue their pelvic floor exercises throughout their life to reduce the likelihood of urinary incontinence. 

How to do Pelvic Floor Exercises

To do pelvic floor exercises, contract your pelvic floor muscles and hold them for 15 seconds (like you’re trying to stop yourself from urinating) before releasing. Repeat this action at least 3 times.

Aim to increase your pelvic floor holds as you strengthen the muscles. This should help prevent long-term bladder problems and keep your pelvic floor muscles strong and healthy.

Train Your Bladder

During pregnancy, a woman’s bladder is under a lot of pressure (literally). With the baby sitting on top of the bladder, many pregnant women feel the need to urinate more frequently, often going to the toilet throughout the night and numerous times during the day.

How to Train Your Bladder

After birth, it is a good idea to retrain your bladder so that it can hold urine for longer. You can do this by waiting until your bladder is properly full before going to the toilet. Start by going to the bathroom every half an hour or so and then try to extend the time between bathroom trips a little more each day. Over time, you should be able to work up to ‘normal’ urination intervals of every few hours.

Top tip: Bladder training should be carried out with caution as holding urine in too often and for too long can increase the risk of getting a bladder infection.

Seek Professional Counselling

Mental health can have a big impact on our physical health. This is particularly true of women struggling with stress urinary incontinence.

So, if you are struggling after the birth of your baby, it is important to seek help. Speak to your GP or midwife about how you are feeling and they can support you.

Practice Low Impact Exercises

After birth it is important to exercise safely when you feel strong enough to do so. Light, low-impact exercises can help aid in your body’s healing while supporting your mental health during the turbulent postpartum period.

Some great low impact exercises after birth include walking, swimming, or low impact aerobics. To help protect your pelvic floor during this time it is helpful to avoid high impact exercises such as lifting weights, bouncing, contact sports, or horse riding (for example). We recommend avoiding these exercises until your body is fully recovered (typically from 6 months postpartum onwards) and your pelvic floor muscles have had time to strengthen.

Summary

Post-pregnancy wellness is vital for protecting and strengthening a woman’s physical and emotional health.

Managing stress urinary incontinence during the postpartum period can feel overwhelming when you have a new baby to take care of, but caring for yourself is just as important!

We hope the tips in this article will help you look after yourself well so that you can enjoy your new life as a mum to the fullest!

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