Bringing new life into this world is probably one of the most exciting and stressful times in a woman’s life. Everything changes – sleep schedule, finances, diet, and relationships are all different when you have a baby. That doesn’t even include the immense physical changes your body goes through, both internally and externally, during pregnancy and delivery. With all of these wonderful (and maybe not so wonderful) changes a woman’s body and personal life goes through, added with the stress of becoming a parent, means that new moms are not likely to take care of a very common problem: light bladder leaks.
What is SUI?
To understand why mothers develop these light bladder leaks, it’s important to break down exactly what we’re talking about here. Stress Urinary Incontinence or SUI is the involuntary loss of urine during an activity that would put “stress” or pressure on the abdomen, bladder, and/or urinary tract. The pressure can be small like a cough or a sneeze, to something more athletic and involved like running or weight lifting. There are technically two things that could happen in the case of SUI and the pressure that’s put on the bladder.
Urethral hypermobility: your urethra shifts position due to an increase in abdominal pressure.
Intrinsic sphincteric deficiency (ISD): your sphincter doesn’t seal off effectively at your bladder.
Both of these situations result in a leak, and experts believe that most women have a little bit of both working against them. These light bladder leaks, while they may just seem like an inconvenient nuisance, are actually a symptom of a larger (but more common than you might think!) problem with pelvic floor strength and health. SUI can be tied to the weakening or damaging of the pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles that support the bladder and urinary tract and help regulate the flow of urine. So, when the muscles, nerves, or surrounding tissue is compromised, it can lead to an accidental leak. Both men and women can develop SUI, although it is seen more often in females due to anatomical differences and hormonal changes. This is also due to the fact that women give birth to children through vaginal delivery (a majority of the time) which can obstruct the pelvic floor and the urinary tract.
Moms & Bladder Leaks
As mentioned before, both pregnancy and vaginal delivery can do some serious damage to your pelvic floor which obviously impacts mothers, both those who have just given birth for the first time and those who have had multiple children. In one study, it was concluded that women who have given birth vaginally were 2-3 times more likely to develop stress urinary incontinence than women who had never delivered. In the same study, it was noted that women who had a cesarean section were 50% more likely to develop SUI than women who had never delivered. In another study, mothers that were giving birth for the first time were questioned during and 4 years after their first delivery about urinary incontinence. The results showed: the prevalence of any urinary incontinence was 5% before the first pregnancy, 22% during the first pregnancy and 32% four years later. The same study did detail that the size of the leaks women experience and impact on the subjects’ life depended on age, previous incontinence (before or during the first pregnancy), and prolonged labor.
Beyond the damage that’s caused during labor and delivery, women’s bodies face other challenges postpartum that could impact urinary health.
Uterus size – Women who have just given birth may experience light bladder leaks in the weeks following delivery as the uterus shrinks back to its original size, putting pressure on the bladder.
Hormonal changes – Estrogen, the female sex hormone, is fluctuating and going through changes as your body adjusts to life post-pregnancy. Estrogen happens to be the hormone that helps support the tissue that lines the urethra, which may also contribute to leaks.
Post-baby weight – Most women gain anywhere from 22 to 28lbs during pregnancy, and it may take some time to work it off. Added weight means added pressure to the bladder and urinary tract, which could lead to more leaks.
SUI is fairly common among both mothers and nonmothers alike. While unfortunate, a common need creates widely-available solutions.
Bladder Support – Women can now buy a reusable bladder support device over-the-counter to help with leaks! Revive® is an FDA cleared, one-size fits most, flexible, soft device that is inserted like a tampon to help reduce leaks from the inside out. Every box comes with an applicator, a carrying case, a month’s supply of retrieval strings, and thorough instructions on how to use, clean, and store your Revive. While Revive is designed for women, those who are pregnant or who have given birth in the past 3 months should not use the device.
Pads & Liners – Absorbent pads and liners stick to underwear (like a period pad) to whisk away urine and protect clothing and surfaces.
Undergarments – Instead of using an absorbent pad attached to underwear, the whole undergarment is designed to absorb and hide leaks throughout the day.
Kegels – Kegels are recommended for some women to do to help restrengthen pelvic floor muscles, the muscles that help control the flow of urine.
Hormonal solutions – Women that have a hormonal deficit from either postpartum complications or menopause may be prescribed estrogen, and this may help to reduce leaks.
Ask your doctor or a healthcare professional for some advice if you’re not sure which solution is right for you. Always listen to your body – pads, liners, and undergarments can lead to infection and irritation if left unchanged for a period of time. If this occurs, talk to your doctor and discontinue use until cleared.