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

Incontinence during pregnancy

5-minute read

What is incontinence?

Incontinence is a loss of the ability to control your bowel and bladder. Incontinence can either be urinary (when you wee from the bladder) or faecal (when you poo or pass wind from the bowel). It can range from a small leak to a complete loss of control of the bladder or bowel.

What causes incontinence during pregnancy?

Women who are pregnant or who have had a baby are considered at greater risk of urinary incontinence. The pelvic floor muscles are the muscle group that support the bladder, uterus and bowel and these muscles are weakened during pregnancy and childbirth as a result of changes that occur during pregnancy. If your pelvic floor muscles are weakened then the internal organs are less well-supported, which can lead to difficulty controlling your urine, faeces (poo) or flatus (wind).

When am I more likely to experience incontinence during my pregnancy?

Since incontinence is caused by a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles there is no specific time at which incontinence is more likely to occur. However, as the baby grows there is added strain on the muscles, which can cause more severe symptoms. Birth (both vaginal and caesarean) causes the pelvic floor muscles to stretch, increasing the likelihood of incontinence.

Am I more likely to experience incontinence if I had it before pregnancy?

Urinary incontinence is commonly linked to pregnancy and childbirth, but if your pelvic floor is already weak, you are more likely to have incontinence. Other risk factors include constipation (which also puts strain on the pelvic floor); impaired mobility or neurological (nerve) or musculoskeletal (muscle) conditions such as stroke, dementia or arthritis; and other health challenges, such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity.

How is incontinence treated during pregnancy?

It is always better to try to prevent incontinence rather than treat its symptoms. A good place to start is to maintain a healthy diet and do regular exercise since this promotes good bladder and bowel health, which can improve and sometimes even cure incontinence.

Pelvic floor exercises can also help strengthen the muscles of your vagina, urethra and anus. Before beginning to exercise these muscles, it is important to make sure you are using the pelvic floor muscles correctly. Speak to a continence professional or a physiotherapist for guidance.

The exercises can be performed lying down – up to week 16 of your pregnancy –or while sitting or standing, and ideally you should aim for 3 to 6 sessions daily.

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

Could incontinence be a sign of something more serious?

Urinary incontinence can lead to faecal incontinence as the muscles progressively weaken. A weak pelvic floor can also cause sexual difficulties such as reduced vaginal sensation. Incontinence can be a sign of a prolapse — where the internal organs are no longer supported by the pelvic floor and the bladder or uterus can slide down into the vagina. If you suspect you have a prolapse, you should also look out for a distinct bulge in the vagina or deep vaginal aching.

Will my incontinence continue after I’ve had the baby?

Most women’s pelvic floor muscles return to normal within 3 to 6 months after childbirth, but in some women the overstretching and tears (known as avulsion) during birth will affect continence, particularly after a vaginal birth.

It is important to take time to work out the cause of the incontinence as it is often stress-related or due to pelvic muscle weakness that is not unconnected to the birth. Contact your doctor, midwife, continence nurse or physiotherapist for more guidance on how to strengthen your pelvic floor.

Where to get help

If you are concerned about incontinence:

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

Last reviewed: January 2021

Back To Top

Need more information?

Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor which come under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby 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

Pelvic floor exercises & care: in pictures | Raising Children Network

Your pelvic floor holds your bladder, bowel and uterus in place, but pregnancy and birth can weaken it. Do pelvic floor exercises: squeeze, lift and hold.

Read more on website

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

Pregnancy at week 23

By week 23, your baby is practising to breathe in the womb and you might be experiencing some incontinence.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby 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

Exercising during pregnancy · Pelvic floor friendly exercises · Pelvic Floor First

Information about exercising during pregnancy

Read more on Continence Foundation of Australia website

Exercise modifications during pregnancy · Modifying exercise programs · Pelvic Floor First

Exercise modifications during pregnancy. While there are modifications of exercises recommended during pregnancy and for postnatal women, there are often times that modifications within these exercises themselves need to be made.

Read more on Continence Foundation of Australia website

Pregnancy Plan app to help keep you dry | Continence Foundation of Australia

The statistic is confronting: 1 in 3 women who have ever had a baby wet themselves. But don’t despair, pelvic floor muscle exercises during pregnancy may help you stay dry.

Read more on Continence Foundation of Australia website

Safe return to exercise after pregnancy

Exercise can help you recover after childbirth, make you stronger and improve mood. Here's how to work out safely after a pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby 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.