Q&A: Incontinence after birth: Just how normal is it?

Posted in Postpartum Questions Answered.

Question & Answer

It’s really common to have some leakage after giving birth, and most of us assume that it’s normal to wet ourselves a little after a cough or sneeze (or a really awesome laughing session). But it’s actually not normal – just because you’ve had a baby, it doesn’t mean you have to put up with embarrassing leakage.

We sat down with continence nurse Janine Armocida to find out more about incontinence after giving birth, and share some of her tips on how to help yourself before and after you have your baby.

Q. What is the difference between ‘leakage after birth’ and incontinence?

Incontinence after having a baby is still incontinence. Any leakage shows that the muscles are weakened or damaged. Pregnancy hormones soften ligaments during pregnancy and for up to three to four months post-delivery which makes women more prone to urinary leakage and constipation.

Any leakage during pregnancy or after delivery shows some pelvic floor weakness, and learning to do pelvic floor muscle exercises correctly can help to prevent this from happening or improve and resolve any leakage.

Q. What can we do to help ourselves before birth?

  • Learning how to do pelvic floor exercises correctly will help a woman’s pelvic floor muscles recover more quickly after delivery and help reduce the risk of bladder or bowel problems during or after pregnancy.
  • Monitor your weight gain during pregnancy, your doctor or midwife will be able to give you advice regarding this. During pregnancy the average weight gain it is 11.5 to 16kgs.
  • Eat a healthy well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water.
  • Prevent constipation and do not strain when opening your bowels. Ask your midwife or doctor for laxative advice.
  • Avoid any heavy lifting.

Q. What can we do to help ourselves after giving birth?

  • Basically the same as prior to giving birth, though if you had a vaginal delivery and
    have stitches then applying ice packs for 20 minutes at a time during the first 72hrs or longer as needed will help reduce swelling making the area more comfortable. Your midwife will be able to advise you further on this.
  • Do pelvic floor exercises as these will help your stitches heal and the pelvic floor muscles recover more quickly. (There are Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist who can teach you how to do pelvic floor exercise correctly)
  • Avoid constipation and ask your midwife or doctor for laxative advice.
  • Initially, support your perineum with a pad or toilet paper when opening your bowels to prevent the amount of strain on the back passage.

Q. What’s your best advice for mums suffering incontinence after birth?

  • Understand that this is not normal and that there is help available.
  • Seek help and advice from a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist or a Continence Nurse advisor.
  • Talk to your MCHN, GP, Midwife or Obstetrician.
  • Learn how to do pelvic floor exercise correctly.
  • Phone the National Continence Helpline (NCHL) on 1800 33 00 66 who will be able
    to tell you of a continence professional in your area and give you general management advice.
  • Drink adequate fluids consisting mainly of water. This actually helps the amount of urine (wee) your bladder can hold, prevents the urine from becoming too concentrated and helps to prevent urinary tract infections and constipation.
  • Prevent constipation, do not strain when opening your bowels and discuss laxative use with your midwife or GP if necessary.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Don’t despair and talk to a health professional as there is help available and it will improve with the right help and advice.

Q. How common is this issue?

We say one in three women who have ever had a baby wet themselves though the amount of incontinence can vary greatly between women. The most important thing to remember and understand is that any leakage no matter how small is not normal!

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