Bringing new life into this world is decidedly one of the most magical and rewarding experiences in a woman’s life. Ask any mother and she will tell you that becoming a mom is her greatest accomplishment. She will say that every second of pain and every strange change to her body was absolutely worth it to bring that child into the world. Of course, the rose-colored glasses of parenthood gloss over the impact of pregnancy on a woman’s body – the weight gain, fluctuating hormones, bones and organs shifting to make room for the growing baby, etc. Another common challenge that pregnant women face is light bladder leaks, specifically, Stress Urinary Incontinence, or SUI. This kind of urinary incontinence occurs when the leaks are triggered by stress or pressure on the bladder or urinary tract, usually caused by some kind of action or motion like lifting or coughing.
What Causes Bladder Leaks During Pregnancy?
Many pregnant women start to notice changes in their bathroom habits pretty early on after finding out they’re pregnant, usually taking the form of more frequent trips to the bathroom. But plenty of pregnant women also start to develop SUI symptoms, which can be embarrassing and messy. In fact, according to the National Association for Continence, 63 percent of stress-incontinent women say their symptoms began during or after pregnancy. In one study, 500 participants that were otherwise healthy, experienced bladder leaks for the first time in their third trimester. But what causes pregnant women to experience these kinds of leaks more commonly than non-pregnant people? There are a few explanations:
Baby pressure – As the baby grows inside of a woman’s body, the weight of the child will add extra pressure to the pelvic floor, bladder, and urethra, which may contribute to leaks.
Hormones – A pregnant woman’s body goes through a ton of hormonal changes in 9 months, and the hormones that help regulate the flow of urine (estrogen, progesterone, and relaxin) fluctuate in this period of time.
Weight – Women that gain an excessive amount of weight during their pregnancy are more likely to experience SUI.
Previous UTIs – It’s estimated that anywhere from 30-40% of women who didn’t completely treat their urinary tract infection will develop SUI symptoms when pregnant.
Age – Pregnant women over the age of 35 have been found to have a higher risk of developing incontinence.
Previous children – Women that have previously been pregnant and delivered vaginally are more likely to develop light bladder leaks while pregnant again.
So while light bladder leaks are a common side-effect of being pregnant for one reason or another, it’s still embarrassing, frustrating, and the last thing that a pregnant woman wants to think about.
What to Do
There are a couple of ways pregnant women can help prevent and correct leaks, it depends on what works the best for you and your lifestyle, and of course, what is right for the baby.
Kegels – Kegels, Kegels, Kegels! Try working on your Kegels multiple times a day in sets of at least 10 and as many as 30 at a time. In addition, try engaging those muscles when you cough, sneeze or get ready to lift something.
Bladder training – Go before you have to. Start by going every 30 minutes and then extending the period of time between each trip, but don’t wait any longer than 2 hours. This will ensure that your bladder never gets too full in a place or scenario when a bathroom is out of reach.
Keep an eye on diet – Avoid foods and drinks that irritate the bladder like soda, citrus, and coffee and be sure to drink enough water (six to eight 8-oz glasses a day). Not drinking enough fluid can concentrate urine which irritates the bladder.
Maintain a healthy weight – While it is natural to gain weight during pregnancy, adding an excess amount adds extra pressure to the bladder (and the rest of the body).
Pads and liners – Pads and liners can be used to help cover up leaks if and when they happen. NEVER use a tampon – they aren’t designed to absorb urine and are off-limits for women that are pregnant.
While light bladder leaks while pregnant are problematic, the bright side is that they are a temporary problem for most women, usually seeing symptoms reduce in the weeks postpartum. However, in one study of pregnant women, researchers found that 62 percent had incontinence during the pregnancy. And 50 percent continued to have problems with leaking urine after childbirth. If this problem persists, there are more solutions out there for women who aren’t pregnant.
Hormonal treatment – for women that are struggling with the depletion of estrogen (usually in the perimenopause stage of life) a topical estrogen medication may be prescribed to help reduce bladder leaks.
Revive® – this is a reusable bladder support device designed for women to reduce leaks internally for up to 12 hours a day. The Revive® device is available over-the-counter for women who are experiencing leaks and are not pregnant or have given birth in the past 3 months.