Bladder leakage is a common problem for pregnant women. Such leakage is the product of a particular kind of urinary incontinence called “stress urinary incontinence,” also known as SUI. Up to 54 percent of pregnant women experience SUI, according to a recent survey of human-study articles published in the International Urogynecology Journal.
Why does it happen?
Pregnancy causes many complex physiological changes in the body. As the fetus grows and the uterus containing it expands and grows heavier, pressure on the pelvic floor muscles intensifies, increasing the risk that the proper function of the pelvic floor muscles will be reduced over time. The weight of the growing uterus also puts pressure on the bladder, reducing its capacity to hold urine, and often resulting in irritation.
Pregnancy-related changes in hormones and collagen levels may also negatively impact the normal function of the urinary tract.
SUI issues tend to worsen as the pregnancy continues into the second and third trimesters, and may persist well after the baby is born.
What to do
If you are pregnant – or plan on trying to – it’s best to know what’s ahead so that you can map out a plan to deal with any unwanted issues, such as SUI — that may crop up along the way. Every woman’s body is different, and your age, weight, lifestyle and health history all will have an impact on your susceptibility to SUI during pregnancy. A medical professional who knows your medical history and current state of health will be in the best position to provide a customized plan to minimize any SUI issues going forward, so the first step you should take is to discuss this issue with your doctor, midwife, and/or gynecologist.
The good news is that there are things that you can do to handle bladder leakage, both in the short term and through your pregnancy and beyond.
Bladder leakage is, naturally, an embarrassing problem for moms-to-be. Fortunately, there are many good incontinence products on the market that can remove the fear associated with an unwanted leak by containing it. Incontinence products likely to interest moms-to-be include moisture-absorbing, washable women’s panties, waterproof bedding and disposable pads and liners. These products can make it possible for the mom-to-be to enjoy a higher quality of life during her pregnancy.
Take regular bathroom breaks
SUI episodes during pregnancy can occur when the pressure inside the bladder exceeds the ability of the muscles which ordinarily inhibit urine release from stopping such a release. By making regular bathroom breaks, you’ll keep the inside bladder pressure lower, which may ease leakage issues. Dr. Anthony Atala, a spokesperson for the American Urological Association, recommends that pregnant women plan to visit the bathroom once every two hours. If you have a mobile phone, you can just program your clock to sound an alarm every two hours during the day to remind yourself to hit the bathroom.
Lifestyle changes and exercise
While researchers acknowledge that “the exact causes of pregnancy-related SUI remain unclear,” lifestyle factors, including obesity and smoking, appear to increase the risk of experiencing bladder leakage during pregnancy, so they should be avoided before and certainly during pregnancy.
Exercise – specifically Kegel exercises (also known as PFMT, or Pelvic Floor Muscle Training) – has been associated with the prevention or amelioration of SUI symptoms in pregnant women in multiple studies. These low-impact exercises, which strengthen the pelvic floor muscles responsible for controlling urination, can be performed discretely in the privacy of one’s own home.
While the efficacy of doing Kegels has been recognized by a wide range of physiotherapists, doctors and medical authorities, it’s important for moms-to-be to do these exercises correctly in order to reap the muscle-strengthening benefits that actually alleviate SUI issues. While it’s possible to learn to do Kegels through self-study, the recommended course of action is to get individual instruction from a trained physiotherapist, or other qualified professional, fully familiar with the exercise technique.