One in three women who have ever had a baby will wet themselves. The more babies you have, the more chance there is that you will leak urine. But it’s not all bad news – research shows that 60-70 per cent of incontinence cases can be cured or better managed. And there is a lot you can do to prevent incontinence before bub arrives.
Why can pregnancy cause us to ‘leak’?
When you’re pregnant, the hormone relaxin is released throughout your body. Relaxin softens the tissues in your body, allowing them to expand as your baby grows. It also helps your pelvic floor to stretch during birth.
The softening effect of relaxin and the increasing weight of your baby places pressure on your pelvic floor muscles, making you more at risk of urinary leakage. The pelvic floor muscles and ligaments are also stretched at birth, which can sometimes lengthen the tissues permanently.
Pelvic floor exercises help prevent urinary leakage – here’s how to do them
Step 1 – Identify your pelvic floor muscles
Pelvic floor exercises are very important to help strengthen the pelvic floor and maintain continence.
The first step to doing pelvic floor exercises it to identify your pelvic floor muscles. Do this by trying to stop or slow flow of urine midway through emptying your bladder. Stopping the flow of urine repeatedly on the toilet is NOT an exercise, but a way of identifying your pelvic floor muscles. This should only be done to identify which muscles are needed for bladder control and is not recommended as a regular exercise.
Step 2 – Relax, then lift and squeeze the pelvic floor muscles – nothing above the belly button should activate
Once you’ve identified your pelvic floor muscles, it’s time to perfect your technique. Imagine letting go like you would to pass urine. Let your tummy muscles hang loose. See if you can lift and then squeeze in and hold the muscles inside the pelvis while you breathe. Nothing above the belly button should tighten or tense. Some tensing and flattening of the lower part of the abdominal wall will happen. This is not a problem, as this part of the tummy works together with the pelvic floor muscles.
Try tightening your muscles really gently to feel just the pelvic floor muscles lifting and squeezing in. If you cannot feel your muscles contracting, change your position and repeat. For example, if you can’t feel your muscles contracting in a seated position, try a lying down or standing up position instead. After a contraction it is important to relax the muscles. This will allow your muscles to recover from the previous contraction and prepare for the next contraction.
Step 3 – Practice regularly – make your pelvic floor exercises part of your daily routine
Once you master the art of contracting your pelvic floor muscles, try holding the inward squeeze for longer (up to 10 seconds) before relaxing. If you feel comfortable doing this, repeat it up to 10 times. This can be done three times a day.
Make sure you continue to breathe normally while you squeeze in. You can do the exercise lying down, sitting or standing with your legs apart, but make sure your thighs, bottom and stomach muscles are relaxed.
Linking the exercises to a regular activity such as meal times or brushing your teeth is a good way to incorporate pelvic floor exercises into your daily routine.
If you can’t feel your muscles hold or relax, or if you want to make sure you’re using the correct technique, make an appointment with a continence professional.
For more help, call the National Continence Helpline 1800 330 366
To get in touch with continence care professionals in your local area, phone the National Continence Helpline (freecallâ„¢) 1800 33 00 66 or go to www.continence.org.au. For more information on pelvic floor health, go to www.pelvicfloorfirst.org.au
The Continence Foundation of Australia is the peak national organisation working to improve the quality of life of all Australians affected by incontinence. The National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66) is staffed by continence nurse advisors who provide advice, referrals and resources to consumers and health professionals.