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.
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:
- have bladder problems during the pregnancy
- are having your first baby
- are having a large baby
- have a long labour
- have a difficult delivery
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:
- Breathe in and breathe out.
- Pull the pelvic floor muscles up and in as though you are trying to stop yourself from urinating.
- Hold the squeeze for 10 seconds while breathing normally.
- Relax and repeat in 10 seconds.
- Repeat the squeeze and release 10 times.
- Do this exercise 3 times a day.
The Continence Foundation of Australia have produced this video on how to do pelvic floor exercises:
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.
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.
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Last reviewed: May 2019