Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Bladder weakness after birth

4-minute read

Leaking urine after childbirth is very common. One in three women who have had a baby have wet themselves at some point. It can be embarrassing and inconvenient, but thankfully there are ways to improve bladder weakness.

Why do women leak urine after childbirth?

When you are pregnant, you produce hormones that stretch the muscles and tissues that support the bladder, the bowel and the uterus. This group of muscles and tissues is called the pelvic floor.

>Diagram showing where the pelvic floor muscles are located in the female body.
Diagram showing where the pelvic floor muscle is located in the female body.

When your baby moves down through your vagina to be born, your pelvic floor stretches and it remains stretched for some time.

The combination of hormones and stretched muscles means the muscles that control your bladder are weakened. This can lead to your accidentally leakage urine.

How common is it?

It’s common for a new mother to accidentally leak urine when she laughs, sneezes, coughs or exercises. This is known as stress incontinence.

But while stress incontinence is common, many women are too embarrassed to talk about it. Doctors, however – as well as midwives, maternal and child health nurses and continence nurses – are used to talking about it. If you are experiencing leakage, they will have suggestions that can help.

You are more likely to develop stress incontinence after birth if you:

Will it go away?

Most women who leak urine after childbirth find that it goes away in the first few weeks, since the stretched muscles and tissues recover.

However, for some women it can take months while other women find their pelvic floor never recovers fully.

If you are still experiencing leakage at your 6-week postnatal check, talk to your midwife or doctor. Dealing with it early on can reduce the risk of it becoming a life-long problem.

Prevention and treatment

The prevention and treatment of bladder problems are very similar. Being generally healthy, and having good bladder and bowel habits both before and after pregnancy, are all important. You can help prevent leakage, or help yourself recover from leakage, by:

  • doing pelvic floor exercises (see below)
  • training your bladder (see below)
  • eating 2 pieces of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables per day
  • not going to the toilet ‘just in case’
  • making sure your bladder is empty after going to the toilet
  • keeping your weight within the normal range for your height

Pelvic floor exercises

The muscles around the bladder, bowel and uterus can be exercised, toned and trained like any other muscles in the body. Doing this before, during and after pregnancy will help prevent urinary incontinence during pregnancy and after the birth of your baby. They’re easy to do, in any place and at any time.

Here’s an example:

  1. Breathe in and breathe out.
  2. Pull the pelvic floor muscles up and in as though you are trying to stop yourself from urinating.
  3. Hold the squeeze for 10 seconds while breathing normally.
  4. Relax and repeat in 10 seconds.
  5. Repeat the squeeze and release 10 times.
  6. Do this exercise 3 times a day.

The Continence Foundation of Australia have produced this video on how to do pelvic floor exercises:


You can also find out more about pelvic floor strength on the Jean Hailes website, or learn about the function and role of the pelvic floor muscles on healthdirect.

Bladder training

When you’re pregnant, your growing baby puts pressure on your bladder. This causes the bladder to feel full more quickly than usual, meaning you need more frequent trips to the toilet.

After your baby’s birth, it is a good idea to retrain your bladder. You do this by trying to hold off from going to the toilet for as long as you can, until your bladder is full.

Surgery

If all else fails, surgery might be an option for some women. If you need to, talk to your doctor about what's best for you.

Living with urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence does, unfortunately, become a long-term problem for some women. Here are some tips on living with it:

  • Use incontinence pads, which are made for urine leakage, rather than sanitary pads.
  • Take a change of underwear or set of clothes when you go out.
  • Know where toilets are located so you can find them quickly (there are smartphone apps to help you do this).
  • Cross your legs when sneezing or laughing.
  • Modify your exercise routine to avoid high impact exercises such as jumping.

Speak to your doctor or midwife or call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 for more information and support.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

Bladder weakness after birth

Leaking urine after childbirth is very common. It can be embarrassing and inconvenient, but there are ways to improve bladder weakness.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pelvic Floor Muscle Damage - Birth Trauma

The pelvic floor muscles are a supportive basin of muscle attached to the pelvic bones by connective tissue to support the vagina, uterus, bladder and bowel.

Read more on Australasian Birth Trauma Association website

Signs of a pelvic floor problem · The pelvic floor · Pelvic Floor First

Pelvic floor problems can occur when the pelvic floor muscles are stretched, weakened or too tight.

Read more on Continence Foundation of Australia website

RANZCOG - Pudendal Neuralgia

Pudendal neuralgia is pain caused by the nerve that supplies the skin between your pubic bone and your tail bone.

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) - Birth Trauma

Some women with Pelvic Organ Prolapse do not experience any symptoms. When women do have symptoms they can range from minor changes to completely

Read more on Australasian Birth Trauma Association website

Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy and after childbirth

During pregnancy there is increased pressure on the pelvic floor, and childbirth can stretch and damage the pelvic floor muscles

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Anatomy of pregnancy and birth - perineum and pelvic floor

The perineum – the skin between the vagina and anus - stretches during childbirth and can sometimes tear. Learn here how to prepare the perineum for the birth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Recovering after vaginal childbirth – your body

Childbirth is a natural process but it has a profound effect on your body

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Physical Trauma - Birth Trauma

In this section we will cover the following:

Read more on Australasian Birth Trauma Association website

Pregnant or postnatal · Who's at risk? · Pelvic Floor First

Pregnancy and childbirth can have a lasting effect on your pelvic floor muscle fitness.

Read more on Continence Foundation of Australia website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.