Urinary incontinence after childbirth is common but can be embarrassing. WUKA experts discuss what causes incontinence in the postpartum period, and how to manage it safely.
What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is where urine leaks from the bladder unintentionally. This can happen when you laugh, cough, sneeze or perform physical exertions such as running or jumping. And while there’s no denying it can be embarrassing, incontinence is actually really common amongst both sexes, although women tend to suffer more.
There are different types of urinary incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when your bladder is put under pressure and is unable to hold urine in as well as before. Urge incontinence usually occurs due to an overactive bladder. You might feel a sudden and very urgent need to use the loo, and sometimes leak urine before you get there.
What causes incontinence after childbirth?
Urinary incontinence can be really common after childbirth, whether you give birth vaginally or via c-section. Its often caused by pressure on the bladder during pregnancy, and a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. Incontinence can also occur during pregnancy too.
After your baby is born, your midwife, GP or physical therapist should give you information on how to exercise your pelvic floor muscles to strengthen them and to help things return to normal. But it’s worth noting that these exercises can be done at any time, and before your baby is born too.
How important are pelvic floor exercises after childbirth?
We spoke to Anja, author of Teaching yoga for the Menstrual Cycle, about pelvic floor exercises after childbirth.
She told us,
“Pelvic floor awareness is extremely important before and after childbirth, regardless of having a vaginal or caesarean birth.
Either way, the body has gone through some incredible changes. The hormones are changing and the body has changed so much through pregnancy, labour, birth, and again postpartum. Following a vaginal birth there might also be some trauma to the pelvic floor, such as tears or general muscular strain.
I always recommend a visit to a women’s health physiotherapist, who can offer an internal examination. We often only focus on the baby’s health and not on the mother’s, so if you have the capacity to see a physio for a “mum’s MOT” or similar then I would recommend to do so.
Pregnancy and beyond is an extended period of change and transformation. We need to take care of the pelvic floor to avoid challenges- not just immediately after birth but also later in life. It isn’t just about incontinence but also prolapse, painful sex and pelvic pain."
How soon after birth can pelvic floor exercises be performed?
So how soon after birth is it safe to get busy with the pelvic floor exercises?
"Straight away,” Anja told us, “but we start slowly with simple breathing practises to connect the respiratory diaphragm and the pelvic diaphragm (or pelvic floor).
Take a slow, relaxed in-breath to feel the potential for expansion in the pelvis. And an extended exhale to experience the natural engagement of the pelvic floor. This full diaphragmatic breath is also excellent for the internal organs, including the intestine- which can in turn support our digestion, avoiding constipation.
We discussed this breath in the post on Exercises to help with urinary incontinence.
Once you start to feel an awareness of the pelvic floor, you can enjoy more active pelvic floor exercises- including the Cat-cow stretch and bridge pose.
Its always best to have a check up and a discussion with a healthcare professional before starting any exercises - especially if you had a traumatic birth or had any intervention.”
How soon after child birth should incontinence symptoms ease?
If you do experience urinary incontinence after childbirth, you might be keen to know how long it’s likely to last. But, as with anything related to the human body, the answer is: it depends.
We’re all different, we all experience pregnancy and childbirth differently, and our bodies are unique to us and us alone. One person’s journey post-birth can look entirely different to your own, so try not to compare.
Anja told us,
“The NHS offers a 6 week post-birth check-up, and although they may not focus on the new mother, it’s a good time to voice any concerns. If you are experiencing incontinence at this stage, ask for a physio check up. Incontinence can last 3-6 months or longer, but there is help if you ask for it. This can be challenging as many people are shy or ashamed about incontinence - even though it is so common. But if it isn’t addressed it may continue for longer than necessary.
Even joining a postnatal yoga class or special postnatal pilates class should address the pelvic floor and an experienced well-trained teacher will have an awareness of how to support the pelvic floor postpartum.”
How to manage incontinence after childbirth
We’re not going to lie, suffering with urinary incontinence isn’t fun, and can be embarrassing. But there are things that you can do to manage the condition- namely WUKA Drytech™️ incontinence pants- designed to absorb light leaks and dribbles and to lock fluid away so that you stay dry and odour free. And nobody will know that you’re wearing them either, as they’re just as comfortable as a normal pair of pants.
So how do they work? The pants are made much like our period pants, with a highly absorbent gusset made up of many layers. The middle layers lock urine away from your body, holding up to 50ml of fluid. These pants differ slightly in that they're treated with Polgiene OdourCrunch™️ to keep them odour free and Polygiene StayFresh™️ for antibacterial for freshness. They also have anti-leak edging to keep you dry too, plus they feature the same stretch technology as our Teen Stretch™️ and adult Stretch Seamless™️ period pants.
We recommend you change the pants regularly, every 3-4 hours and rinse before washing on a cool machine wash. No fabric conditioner and air dry so they stay absorbent for next time.
How do you fix incontinence after giving birth?
Pelvic floor exercises are the best way to reverse the symptoms of urinary incontinence after childbirth. The pelvic floor muscles are responsible for holding up the pelvic organs, including the badder, so keeping these muscles toned and strong will help with urine leaks.
The bladder itself can also be affected by pregnancy and childbirth, but most people find the elasticity returns after 3 to 6 months. If you’re concerned, or symptoms last longer than this, make an appointment to see your GP for advice.
Does urinary incontinence go away?
In most cases urinary incontinence can go away with dedicated pelvic floor exercises, and during the body’s natural recovery journey post-birth. If symptoms continue longer than 6 months, make an appointment to see your GP for advice.
Why do I lose sensation in my bladder after birth?
Pregnancy and childbirth can affect the muscle tone of the bladder, and this can continue into the postpartum period too. Some people experience temporary nerve damage in this area too during childbirth, and this can result in an inability to feel the need to pee. Additionally, swelling in the vaginal area post-birth can also affect the bladder’s function, making it difficult to empty properly.
For most, this issue will ease off within a few days- but for some it can last for up to a month. Make an appointment with your GP for advice if things don’t improve after a month.