Incontinence after childbirth afflicts as many as a third of new and repeat moms. But the condition is treatable, and often even curable.
If you recently gave birth and now find yourself having urinary “accidents,” take comfort in the knowledge that you have plenty of company. A study published by the National Institutes of Health suggests that a third of women experience at least some degree of postpartum urinary leakage. If it was a vaginal birth, statistics say you are about twice as likely to have leakage, as opposed to having had a C-section delivery. Your chances also increase if forceps or other interventional devices were required to ease the birth. The leakage may be light and occasional, moderate, or heavier and more persistent, and could last for a year or more. Each woman’s experience is different.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, multiple vaginal deliveries are a primary cause of stress incontinence (INSERT LINK TO SALK BLOG ARTICLE ABOUT STRESS INCONTINENCE WHEN AVAILABLE). The medical center explains that “pregnancy and childbirth strain and weaken the muscles of the pelvic floor causing a condition called urethral hypermobility,” in which the urethra, the tube through which urine passes from the bladder, does not close properly.
Although stress incontinence is the most common type of postpartum urinary leakage, some new moms also experience urge incontinence, in which an overactive bladder produces a sudden, powerful need to discharge urine. An article in the Journal of Prenatal Medicine reported that forceps delivery and episiotomy (a surgical incision sometimes made in the vagina to aid the birth) “have been associated with increased reports of urge incontinence.”
If you find yourself experiencing postpartum urinary leakage of any kind, your first line of defense consists of protective products that effectively control moisture and odor and can be worn in comfort, allowing you to carry out your daily routine without worry about embarrassment or skin irritation. Salk, Inc., pioneered reusable incontinence products more than a half-century ago and remains the leader in its field. Salk offers a variety of state-of-the-art products, including reusable men’s briefs and women’s panties, disposable pads and liners, and both reusable and disposable pads to protect chairs, couches and bedding.
In addition to using protective products, however, there is much you can do to lessen, and possibly even eradicate, your postpartum urinary leakage. One approach that virtually all healthcare professionals suggest is strengthening the pelvic floor muscles (which control the flow of urine) with pelvic floor exercises, popularly known as Kegels. In fact, Kegels often are recommended during pregnancy to help head off incontinence issues.
Named after Dr. Arnold Kegel, the American gynecologist who developed the exercises in the mid-20th century, Kegels essentially consist of repeated contractions of the pelvic floor muscles. The Mayo Clinic describes in detail how women should perform these exercises.
Beyond Kegels, there are dietary rules that every incontinence sufferer should consider following. Rule number one is do not cut back on fluid intake in an attempt to reduce urine output. Doing so risks dehydration and urinary tract infection, while also giving urine a stronger odor. Drink plenty of water (except before retiring for the night), but try to eliminate alcohol and caffeine-laden beverages, which stimulate the bladder. Cut back on spicy foods, citrus fruits, chocolate, and artificial sweeteners. Consulting a dietician can be helpful in fine-tuning a diet for maximum curtailment of postpartum urinary leakage.
Doctors also say a healthy diet that includes plenty of fiber may help reduce accidental urine discharge by keeping your bowels regular because constipation can place additional pressure on the bladder. Obesity sometimes is a factor in postpartum urinary leakage, so that same healthy diet, combined with regular exercise, will be beneficial if you are overweight – or even if you are not.
Talk to your healthcare professionals about all the medicines you may be taking. Some drugs that treat high blood pressure, depression and insomnia, for example, can promote incontinence as a side effect. There also are drugs that can help calm an overactive bladder, if that condition is contributing to your problem.
Common though it may be, the inconvenience and potential embarrassment of postpartum urinary leakage pose an impediment to good quality of life. But you don’t have to passively endure it. Get help from your healthcare professionals, and make full use of today’s superior protective products.