Incontinence after childbirth is a common problem, affecting as many as half of new mums in the UK every year according to the National Childcare Trust (NCT). But you don’t have to accept this as part and parcel of being a new mum.
Rarely discussed, urinary incontinence is a common problem, especially post-birth. Many women will admit to accidentally leaking urine when they cough, sneeze, laugh or when exercising too. For many women, incontinence started during pregnancy or after giving birth.
Considering that the pelvic floor muscles is placed under stress during pregnancy and can be damaged during birth, it is not surprising. However, some experts believe that women are not being giving the information they need to help prevent post-birth incontinence.
Relying on women’s incontinence pads to manage incontinence during pregnancy and immediately after the birth is no bad thing but if it looks like it is developing into a longer term problem, you should seek medical help.
There are many options open to treating urinary incontinence after pregnancy and birth but prevention through knowledge is key to decreasing the possibility it happening.
Pelvic floor exercises
The pelvic floor muscle provides the ‘floor’ to your bladder and bowel. It is the muscle that we clench when we need to use the bathroom and the urge is sudden and immediate. If this muscle is not strong, it can lead to accidental leaks of urine.
There is good news, however. Like other muscles in our body, we can exercise the pelvic floor muscle and can rehabilitate after birth to help deal with urinary incontinence.
But the good news is that in many cases, incontinence after pregnancy can be avoided by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles before, during and after pregnancy.
How to exercise and strengthen your pelvic floor muscle
Before starting these exercise, if you are pregnant or recently given birth, please check with your midwife, doctor or health visitor that it is ok to do so.
Step 1 – Locate the pelvic floor muscles
Although we use it all the time, it may not be a muscle that you have needed to isolate in the past. It is the muscle that you clench to stop urine from escaping.
This is how many women’ find’ their pelvic floor muscles for the first time. The next time you urinate, clench the muscle to stop urine from flowing (don’t do this regularly as medical professionals believe it contributes to urinary tract infections).
When you clench to stop the urine, you will clench the pelvic floor muscle. Get used to how this feels as you will need to clench and release this muscle to strengthen it.
Step 2 – Practice ‘clench and release’
Now that you have located the muscles, practice clench and release. Simply clench the pelvic floor muscle and release. Do this ten times, about three times a day.
Breathe normally as you do these exercises. Repeat these exercises three times a day for a week or so.
Step 3 – Strengthen and rehabilitate the muscle
Now you have located the muscle and are comfortable doing the ‘clench and release’ exercise, the suggestion would be to move on to clenching and holding the muscle taut for a few seconds, and then releasing it.
When you clench the muscles, hold on to it for a few seconds, gradually build up the clenched hold for about 30 seconds and then release, breathing out as you do so.
You can do these exercises before you are pregnant, during pregnancy and as soon after giving birth as you can. They shouldn’t hurt – if they do, please consult your GP.
Other exercise options
As well as pelvic floor muscles, there are other options for keeping your pelvic floor in great condition during and post pregnancy;
- Yoga or Pilates – these two forms of exercises are perfect for women who are pregnant and new mums too. Always make sure you work with a qualified instructor and if it is a new exercise regime, check with your midwife or doctor before you start. Yoga and Pilates focus on strengthening all kinds of muscles, with the pelvic floor being one of them. Small research groups have shown that women who practice yoga benefit from fewer instances of urinary incontinence.
- Staying active – it has also been found that generally staying active also contributes to preventing incontinence, as well as many other medical issues and problems. Watching what you eat and drinking plenty of water, as well as cutting down caffeine and alcohol all contribute to improving urinary incontinence.
Incontinence during and after pregnancy can, in many cases, be avoided. Ask your GP or midwife for more advice.
HARTMANN Direct supply a range of women’s incontinence products suitable for use during and post pregnancy. Offering a discreet service, they have a product that help to manage urinary incontinence.