"Don't make me laugh or I'll pee my pants!"
Most of us know about it. If you spend any time around mothers of small children you're bound to hear someone mention it. It's fairly common that after having a baby you'll experience a certain degree of incontinence. Mothers often commiserate with each other about the unfortunate leakage that sometimes occurs when you laugh, sneeze or cough after having a baby. Many women feel resigned to this occasional loss of bladder control, and think it is just something they'll have to live with for the rest of their lives. The good news is that mothers don't need to expect that loss of bladder control is the new norm, but why does this happen in the first place?
Why Does Urinary Incontinence Happen During Pregnancy and After Birth?
During pregnancy, your body changes and expands to support your growing baby, which in turn puts more strain on the pelvic floor and surrounding muscles. These muscles all contribute to holding in our pelvic organs, so it is common that pregnancy leads to dysfunction with bladder control. This usually starts sometime midway through your pregnancy as your uterus is holding a good deal of weight from your baby, the placenta, and amniotic fluid. It continues after the baby is born, as those muscles have been stretched and loosened. I have heard countless women who felt they had no other option but to expect frequent leakage, and who were suffering from a sometimes daily battle that required significant lifestyle changes to manage. No woman needs to accept this as her new norm! It is possible to recover these muscles after childbirth, and with the proper exercises and help from a knowledgeable PT (Physical Therapist) you can significantly reduce or eliminate these unwelcome symptoms.
Steps you can take to retain or regain pelvic floor strength
- Prepare while pregnant: Prevention is the best medicine! Engaging in regular exercise that supports the pelvic floor while pregnant can help retain muscle strength as your expanding uterus places pressure on those muscles. Kegels, when done properly, are a vital component in retaining this strength. (It is crucial to learn how to do kegels correctly because it is just as important to regularly practice releasing the muscles in the pelvic floor, since this is a necessary component of giving birth! I talk about how to do this with pregnant women in my prenatal fitness classes.)
- Ease into exercise after birth: When starting back into your exercise regimen after birth, make sure you are participating in exercise that doesn't place additional strain on weak muscles in the pelvic floor. Focus first on regaining those muscles, then slowly add in other exercises. If you can't engage your pelvic floor (think pulling in and holding vs. releasing) then your body isn't ready for exercise that places strain on those muscles!
- Find a Physical Therapist: You can visit a PT at any time in your pregnancy for help in protecting your pelvic floor, but if you've already had your baby, it's better late than never! If you have leakage after months of healing and pelvic floor exercises, or other symptoms such as heaviness in the vagina(feels like insides are going to fall out), or pain during intercourse occurs, please seek professional help! There is help available, and "just dealing with it" is not only unnecessary, it is potentially dangerous to your health and can contribute to further damage especially if you have subsequent pregnancies.
Every woman deserves the benefit of a healthy postpartum recovery, so if you are experiencing prolonged pelvic floor pain and issues, get help today! You are worth it.