Incontinence for weeks and months after birth is a postpartum symptom chalked up to being “normal.” The reality is it’s common but not normal. Here’s what you can do to help.
Many believe a little urinary incontinence is a tradeoff for having a baby. You get your delightful bundle of joy and pee a little every time you sneeze. This postpartum symptom has moms nationwide crossing their legs in fear whenever they cough or laugh.
The good news is you don’t have to accept urinary incontinence as your new reality. Lifestyle changes and dedicated work are usually enough to combat this inconvenient symptom. These tips will help you ditch the leg-cross and conquer this aspect of your postpartum period.
How to overcome incontinence after birth
- Use absorbancy products
- Perform kegels
- Visit a pelvic floor physical therapist
- Retrain your bladder
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid bladder irritants
- Use a pessary
- Talk to your doctor about surgical options
1. Use absorbancy products
Most new moms turn to absorbancy products right after birth. You’ll likely need pads for the first six weeks to absorb postpartum bleeding, which is also helpful for small accidents.
Afterward, you can continue to wear pads or panty liners to contain dribbles. Washable panties intended for period use also work pretty well to collect bladder leaks.
These products will help you manage the symptom but won’t cure the problem. Some women’s bodies will heal naturally and return to normal functioning, though you’ll likely need to try at least one intervention to help your body out.
2. Perform kegels
Kegels are generally the first line of offense when tackling postpartum urinary incontinence. They’re an easy way to strengthen your pelvic floor, which keeps your urethra shut until it’s time to pee again.
To perform a proper Kegel, you must first locate the right muscles. You’ll tighten as you’d hold in your pee or gas. You shouldn’t squeeze your thighs or buttocks, or you won’t target the pelvic floor.
If you aren’t confident you’re getting it right, insert a clean finger into your vagina while you Kegel. You should feel it tighten and lift your finger upward slightly.
Once you have the correct technique, you can practice this exercise regularly. For the best results:
- Hold the Kegel for 3–5 seconds.
- Follow with a rest for 3–5 seconds.
- Complete ten repetitions.
- Aim for at least three sets a day — try one in the morning, afternoon, and evening to help you remember and give your muscles time to recover.
3. Visit a pelvic floor physical therapist
While Kegels are beneficial for strengthening your pelvic floor, they’re not the only option. If you’re having difficulty with Kegels or they don’t seem to be improving your symptoms, a visit to the physical therapist may be in order.
Around 50% of women experience occasional urinary incontinence, while another 10% have frequent issues. Yet, less than half of these ladies seek help from a medical professional, choosing instead to go it alone or accept their circumstances as an inevitability.
A women’s health specialist can give you the tools to battle incontinence. They can perform internal exams to help you target your pelvic floor if necessary. A physical therapist will also be able to help you strengthen and rehabilitate your body postpartum to relieve pelvic pain, heal diastasis recti, and alleviate other common complaints.
4. Retrain your bladder
When a strong and sudden urge to urinate accompanies your leaks, you’ll need to retrain your bladder to hold more pee for longer. If you’ve ever potty trained a puppy, you’re all set for this intervention.
Start by going to the bathroom every half hour to prevent leaks and give you a higher quality of life. Once you have that under control, you can begin training your body to wait slightly longer between potty visits until you work back up to going only every few hours.
While your results may differ, a recent study found women who stick to bladder training can see a 50% or greater reduction in their symptoms.
5. Drink plenty of water
Reducing drinking to prevent leaks is common but can lead to detrimental results. When you drink less water, your body dehydrates, leaving you more vulnerable to urinary tract and bladder infections.
Instead of fixing your postpartum incontinence, it creates a whole different problem. Drink 6–8 glasses of water daily to keep enough fluids moving through your system without overloading your bladder.
If breastfeeding, you’ll need to drink even more to keep up with production. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends nursing mothers drink 16 cups of water daily to boost supply and prevent dehydration for mom and baby.
6. Avoid bladder irritants
Avoiding bladder irritants will help you manage leakage while you work to heal your body. Certain foods like spicy ingredients, coffee, tea, and alcohol aggravate the bladder and make accidents more likely.
Smoking can also contribute to your symptoms and make coughing-related leaks more likely. Women who gave up smoking while pregnant and return to it after giving birth run the risk of worsening their postpartum symptoms. Quitting altogether is the best solution.
7. Buy a pessary
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to stop your bladder leaks, consider using a pessary. This handy device sits high in your vagina to apply pressure and support your bladder, vagina, and urethra.
You insert it similarly to a menstrual cup by folding and inserting it. Halfway up, let it go and unfold. Then, you can use a clean finger to push it further in.
Unlike many other medical-grade products, you can insert and remove a pessary on your own whenever you need to. Bowel movements may cause it to come out, and you should voluntarily remove it before having sex.
The risk of infection is very low, but you should still use caution. Never insert things in your vagina postpartum until you’ve gotten the all-clear from your OB/GYN at six weeks. At that point, you can ask them for a prescription for a pessary or advice on getting one over the counter.
8. Talk to your doctor about surgical options
If you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work, it may be time to talk to your doctor about surgical intervention. Dealing with postpartum incontinence can feel humiliating and lead to changes in mood, including depression. If you feel this way, you must share your feelings with a medical professional.
Like any operation, you’ll need to weigh the risks and benefits. Your healthcare provider can walk you through your options and ensure you’ve exhausted every method.
Final thoughts on postpartum incontinence
Birth is an ordeal, so you deserve to care for yourself afterward. Don’t accept your postpartum symptoms as a permanent fixture in your life.
With these tips, you can rehabilitate your muscles, kick your incontinence to the curb, and get your body function back.
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Mia is a freelance writer and researcher with a passion for health and wellness and over 3+ years of experience. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine, an online healthy living publication.