You may have expected a few stretch marks after your pregnancy, but you maybe didn’t expect a bit of urinary leakage every time you laugh or cough. Urinary incontinence isn’t something many new moms talk about—just dealing with the issue is difficult enough, and the embarrassment keeps a lot of women from seeking treatment—but it’s quite common.
The physical stresses of pregnancy, labor, and delivery can contribute to the development of urinary incontinence, and for many women, if not treated, can become a chronic condition. Read on for effective treatments for every type—yes, there’s more than one—of urinary incontinence.
Types of Urinary Incontinence
Not all incontinence issues are the same. Here’s an overview to get you up to speed on the most common types.
Stress Urinary Incontinence
This is the most common type of incontinence for postpartum women. Stress incontinence usually occurs during activity, or when coughing, sneezing or laughing. With this type, urine leaks when pressure is put on the bladder and the muscles that provide urinary control.
Urge incontinence is also sometimes referred to as overactive bladder. With this type, once the urge to urinate starts you have little control over holding it. Often, just the sound of running water can cause an overwhelming urge to go, with little or no time for getting to a bathroom.
Mixed Incontinence refers to having both stress and urge incontinence.
Treating Urinary Incontinence
There are many types of treatment for the various types of urinary incontinence. Here are some of the most common.
Pelvic Floor Exercises (Kegels)
Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles that support bladder and bowel function that form a figure eight around your urethra, vagina, and rectum. Building the strength of these muscles is critical for reducing urinary incontinence, but many women don’t know the correct way to perform the exercise. It’s hard to know which muscles to contract to strengthen the pelvic floor. It’s not as straightforward as contracting your bicep or core muscles.
Theresa Spitznagle, PT, DPT, MHS, WCS and Associate Professor of Physical Therapy OB at Washington University in St Louis, recommends that women learn to isolate the pelvic floor muscles by touch—stay with us here!—or by using a mirror. You can use your fingers to physically feel the muscles lift and contract, or use a mirror to see the slight lift and tightening. She says to envision the pelvic floor muscles as a turtle pulling its head up and into its shell.
There are two essential parts of the exercise: the contraction phase and the relaxation phase, she says. And they’re equally important. You can practice doing each phase by coordinating an inhalation with the contraction of your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Then, as you exhale, relax all the muscles at the same time.
Start with five to ten contractions a day, and slowly build to 25 or more.
Certain foods and drinks stimulate our bladder more than others. Reduce or eliminate these foods and keep close tabs on whether you experience alleviated incontinence symptoms. Some examples are coffee, tea, carbonated soft drinks, and spicy or acidic foods.
Losing excess weight reduces the stress on your pelvic floor. It can be tough to cook healthy when busy with a new baby, but even shedding a few extra pounds can help reduce the pressure on your bladder and pelvic floor.
Aaptiv offers thousands of classes with varying lengths and intensities so that any new mom can fit a workout into their busy schedule.
This is a type of behavior therapy that can help train you to increase the amount of time you can go between bathroom visits, as well as decrease the sense of urgency.
Some prescriptions medications are useful for reducing urinary incontinence. If you’re experiencing incontinence that’s affecting your quality of life, talk to your doctor about a regular medication.
The first step in successfully treating urinary incontinence is to see a physical therapist that specializes in women’s health. He or she will be able to diagnose and treat this condition and help prevent it from becoming a chronic issue. Be proactive and request a referral to a physical therapist during the first weeks postpartum—especially if you don’t notice an improvement in your incontinence or are getting worse.