Bladder leakage: It’s officially not the coolest of things to deal with, but it’s a reality nonetheless. And this reality is much more common than many people may realize. According to Dr. Elizabeth Kornfield, a female urologist in Delaware, 50 percent of women have stress incontinence and 20 percent have urge incontinence. That’s right, there are two types of incontinence — plus, if you're really lucky, you could have a combination of the two.
Stress incontinence is the reason for those moments when you pee a little after a cough, laugh or sneeze. Urge incontinence, on the other hand, is when you have the strong urge to urinate, usually at all the wrong times. In either case, don't assume that a leaky bladder comes with the territory of aging and that you simply have to accept it. There are ways you can minimize a leaky bladder.
But first, what not to do: “The biggest mistake women make when trying to do pelvic muscle exercises is to stop in the midst of urinating and start again,” Kornfield says. “It creates a problem with bladder emptying.” So, that myth is busted.
And in public restrooms, nix the hovering habit and use the tissue seat covers. Tirzah Antoine, a physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy who’s worked with women trying to strengthen their pelvic floor, says this is a no-no. “During urination and defecation, the pelvic floor should be relaxed,” she explains. “By maintaining a squat and attempting to relax the pelvic floor at the same time, you are training your muscle to be dysfunctional.”
Here’s what you can do. First, practice. There’s no use doing pelvic floor exercises if you’re not actually working the right muscles. “Sit down or lie down. Then place two fingers inside the vagina,” Kornfield says. “You should be able to squeeze your fingers with the vaginal wall.” After you've found the muscle, you can try these exercises:
1. Squeeze and count to 10
This is best for stress-related incontinence, and it’s pretty simple. Kornfield explains that you should squeeze, hold for 10 seconds, and repeat. You can do this throughout your day: fully dressed, in meetings, on the subway, in your car. Wherever, whenever.
2. Quick releases
This one is intended to counteract urge incontinence. When you get the urge to pee suddenly, quickly squeeze, release, squeeze, and release. “Doing this type of exercise activates a reflex pathway that tells the bladder to calm down,” Kornfield says.
This one gets a little more complex. First, it's important to know that it's a misconception that you can work your abs to work your pelvic floor. “The abdominal muscle has little to do with pelvic muscle function," Kornfield explains. "The lower back muscle and hip joints are more important structures connected to proper pelvic muscle function.” So, while the bridge exercise targets abs, it’s also great for hip and low back muscles.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Inhale. Then, as you exhale, draw your pelvic floor in and up. According to Antoine, you should feel your clitoris nod. “This is the contraction that needs to occur to prevent leakage during forceful activity,” she says, adding, “Maintain the contraction and lift the hips up, squeezing the muscles in your butt to raise your pelvis.” Repeat this a few times.
4. Focus on posture
OK, so it's not an exercise, but word on the street is that good posture can make a huge difference. "Posture is very important in maintaining the right muscle balance to allow the pelvic floor to work efficiently," says Antoine. Sit up straight, keep your stomach tight and allow a slight natural arch in your back.
This post is sponsored by Stayfree.