How Common Is Urinary Incontinence After Childbirth?

Jun 6, 2018 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Design: Allison Kahler/SheKnows
Nearly 50 percent of all women experience some level of urinary incontinence within the first year after giving birth, according to the Natural Childbirth Association (NCT). Those who had a vaginal birth were more likely to experience urinary incontinence postpartum compared to women who had C-sections.

And while stress urinary incontinence (SUI) was the most prevalent, according to a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, some women experience urge urinary incontinence (UUI) or the sudden and unstoppable loss of urine, meaning your sense of urgency is increased, according to the National Association for Continence.

All this is to say that when you have to go, you have to go.

Heather Cullnan, 32, has two children and experiences SUI, meaning she has bladder leakage mostly when she sneezes or coughs. “Luckily, it did not and does not impact my daily life,” Cullnan said.

In many cases, the resulting damage of childbirth repairs itself over time and women do not develop long-lasting incontinence. According to OBGYN UCLA Health, only about 5 percent of women who experience incontinence during pregnancy will still experience SUI a year after delivery.

But for those who do find themselves experiencing some bladder leakage during something as small as a laugh, cough or jumping jack, there are ways to strengthen your muscles in an attempt to gain more control over your pelvic floor.

“I started doing Pilates about one year after having my oldest,” Cullnan said. “This, along with exercises that help to repair diastasis recti [abdominal separation], incorporates kegel exercises. Pilates has taught me how important it is to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.”

The most common cause of urinary incontinence related to pregnancy is weak pelvic floor muscles — the muscles that span the bottom of the pelvis and support the uterus and help control the bladder and bowel, according to the NCT. So, doing exercises like kegels during pregnancy can help strengthen those very muscles and has been shown to decrease incontinence during pregnancy and right after delivery, according to OBGYN UCLA Health.

When it comes to urinary incontinence and pregnancy, it is important to talk to your doctor. Everyone’s body is different and needs specific care. There are plenty of ways to manage postpartum UI, from exercises to absorbent products to elective surgery. In order to understand what is best for you, ask questions, gather knowledge and talk with other women about their experiences.

“I wish more women would share their experiences,” Cullnan said. “Having this information prior to delivery would have been very beneficial to me in getting my body back in shape. I have much less back pain or bladder leakage because of pelvic floor exercises than I did prior.”

This post is sponsored by Stayfree.

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