Incontinence after Childbirth: What Are The Causes?
- On August 2, 2018
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Shockingly, one of three new mothers develop urinary incontinence. Due to the taboo surrounding incontinence, the condition remains a frequently overlooked form of maternal morbidity.
Incontinent women often feel ashamed in their body and can feel like they are older than they are. Urologist Jeremy Ockrim asserts, “around seven million women have some degree of urinary incontinence– and it’s a hidden problem, because so many are too embarrassed to seek help”. Recent research by the NCT showed that over one third of women who experience faecal or urinary incontinence are embarrassed to discuss it with their partner.
Are you a woman with incontinence? Don’t suffer in silence, read our blog for tips on where to start.
Why do Women Develop Postnatal Incontinence?
The human body changes dramatically during pregnancy, and for many women there are lingering issues which persist long after they’ve had their child. The pelvic floor muscles span the pelvis and support the bladder and bowel in men, and bladder, bowel and uterus in women. During pregnancy, the increasing weight of your baby, followed by the pressure of giving birth can drastically weaken these muscles. As your uterus shrinks in size in the weeks immediately following delivery, it sits directly on the bladder. This makes it more difficult for the pelvic floor muscles to function. In women who have had an epidural or a spinal block, the nerves responsible for the feeling in and around your bladder may also feel numb. Some women find they are left with little or no control over their bladder, and it may be difficult to even tell when you need to go to the toilet. Kelly Rowland recently admitted to experiencing postpartum incontinence, explaining “I’d be enjoying a night out with my girlfriends, then start cracking up laughing when, suddenly…gasp! It’s the urinary incontinence”. Scott Farrell, chief of gynaecology at IWK Health Centre in Halifax asserts, “three-quarters of the time it’s giving birth that’s to blame for female incontinence”.
Risk Factors for Postpartum Incontinence
Studies have found specific risk factors associated with developing postnatal incontinence, which include the following:
- Each subsequent pregnancy makes a long-term incontinence problem more likely
- If it took a long time to deliver your baby and you needed forceps to help, you are more likely to develop incontinence
- Women older than 35. Older material age is often associated with new postnatal incontinence
- Obese women
- Interestingly, research has also shown that women have less severe incontinence after a first delivery by caesarean section whether or not that first starts during pregnancy.
- The birth of heavier babies
Recommended Urinary Incontinence Products
Improving the Care of New Mothers with Postnatal Incontinence
There are many ways health professionals can professionals can improve mothers’ experiences of incontinence after childbirth. Symptom screening and discussion of healthy bladder habits, for example, could make a lot of difference. Learning about muscle techniques could also help women prevent symptoms from worsening. Many women do not understand why they have developed incontinence, so education on the range of pelvic floor injuries that occur in childbirth could be useful. Ultimately, some of the risk factors of postpartum incontinence are modifiable and worth looking into. Ongoing research will give us information on individuals that are particularly susceptible to damage. If you are struggling to manage incontinence after pregnancy, talk to your GP for lifestyle tips and advice.
You can shop our women’s incontinence range to find a product that is perfect for you.
Do you experience leak during exercise? Read our guide to the best incontinence pads for exercise.
Regaining Bladder Control
This method consists of exercises that help to gradually strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. You can start doing pelvic floor exercises as soon as you feel comfortable after having your baby. Note that you may not be able to feel your pelvic floor at first, as the nerves in that area have been stretched when you pushed your baby out. Don’t worry if you can’t feel anything happening, as you will still be doing yourself some good.
You can read how to do pelvic floor exercises here.
Watch your Weight
It is estimated that each 5 unit increase in body mass index is associated with an incontinence prevalence risk of 50%. There is even evidence to suggest that those who have been overweight since early in adult life more than double their risk of incontinence. In one study, overweight women randomly assigned to a low-calorie diet had a greater decrease in the weekly number of incontinence episodes at 6 months in comparison to the control group. With more weight gain, more stress is placed on a person’s pelvic floor muscles. There are strong correlations between BMI and inta-abdominal pressure and intravesical pressure. This suggests that obesity may cause a chronic state of increased pressure. Having a higher BMI may also cause mechanical stress on the urogenital tissues. Weight gain after childbirth is inevitable. Whilst women are in need of consuming more calories after childbirth, keeping weight-gain moderate may help control incontinence in the postpartum period.
Find a Suitable Product
Do not settle for using a sanitary product. Although you may feel embarrassed about finding an incontinence product, they are much more efficient and can prevent you from having uncomfortable accidents. Feel free to read our Product Guides section for advice on finding an ideal product for you.