What is it?
Incontinence — when the body can’t control urination, either partially or completely — is very common during pregnancy and postpartum. During pregnancy, it’s a result of added weight and pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor, and can continue or worsen after delivery if there’s tearing during birth.
How common is it?
Incontinence happens to more than one-third of women during their first pregnancy, and more than three-quarters during a second or third pregnancy. Studies have found it’s more common when extensive tearing occurs during birth.
How long does it last?
Studies show that about 60 percent of women will recover fully from incontinence within two months postpartum, and most will return to normal within a year. About 5% of women still deal with stress incontinence (when movements like coughing, sneezing or heavy lifting cause accidental urination) a year after birth, usually due to ligament, muscle or nerve damage during delivery.
What can be done about it?
Here are some things that can help if you’re experiencing postpartum incontinence:
Your first line of defense is pads — either regular menstrual pads or pads used specifically for incontinence. You might also want to try wearing absorbent underwear.
Drinking small amounts of fluid many times throughout the day — rather than a lot of liquid at once — can help manage leaking. If frequent nighttime urination is a problem, don’t drink fluids three to four hours before bed.
Avoid certain foods
Research suggests that avoiding foods that can irritate the bladder — such as spicy or acidic foods, or those that contain caffeine — can be helpful.
Do pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor muscle exercises, or kegels, are proven to help incontinence — both during pregnancy and after birth. In one study, women who trained their pelvic floor muscles were eight times more likely to report their incontinence cured than those who did not.
Kegels work by strengthening the musculature of the pelvic floor, which gives the urethra something to compress against to prevent urine from coming out. The recommended kegel regimen is three sets of eight-to-12 contractions held for eight-to-10 seconds each, three times a day. You should try to do this every day for at least 15 to 20 weeks postpartum.
Seek physical therapy
If incontinence is persistent, you may want to consult a physical therapist who can recommend other pelvic floor exercises in addition to kegels.
What can be done to prevent it?
Doing pelvic floor exercises throughout pregnancy has been shown to be effective in reducing your chances of having postpartum incontinence. That said, various events in birth (long labor, delivering a large baby, episiotomy, use of forceps, etc) can lead to incontinence, even if pelvic floor exercises were performed.
When should I be worried?
Sometimes, a urinary tract infection can be confused with incontinence. If you’re constantly peeing, experiencing burning or pelvic pain while peeing, or if your urine is reddish or strong-smelling, you may have a UTI. UTIs can easily be confirmed with a urine test at a doctor’s office or lab.