Your Guide to Understanding Incontinence After Childbirth

An exciting time, childbirth and pregnancy hold many challenges. For some women, the joy of welcoming their new baby is tempered slightly by having difficulty controlling their bladder. Take a look at what urinary incontinence means and what you can do about it.


Postpartum urinary incontinence is a form of stress incontinence. There are other urinary incontinence issues caused by damage or surgery during childbirth, but these are rare.
At some point in pregnancy and after giving birth (postpartum), the majority of new mums will have an involuntary escape of urine – stress incontinence. It could be when you cough or sneeze, lift your baby or you may find it difficult to reach the toilet in time.
Although distressing, the good news is that over time and will little effort, stress incontinence goes away. And knowing more about it helps too.

Are some women more at risk of postpartum urinary incontinence than others?

There are some lifestyle factors that play a such as obesity, smoking, delivering vaginally, assisted vaginal birth such as the use of forceps, family history of bladder problems, prolonged pushing during labour, a big baby and women who have had more than one baby can be more at risk of developing urinary incontinence.
In every woman, the muscles around the bladder naturally weaken during pregnancy, a combination of pregnancy hormones, the growing baby, labour and birth. There are options for dealing with incontinence.

How soon after birth should I seek medical help?

Talk to your doctor, midwife or health visitor as soon as notice a problem. If you have abdominal pain as well as a temperature, it may be that you have a urinary tract infection (UTI). This is not stress incontinence but something that requires a specific medication.

Can I use incontinence pads?

Yes, you can. There are no reasons why you can’t use incontinence pads during and after pregnancy.
In the first few weeks after birth, you will need to use sanitary pads as you will bleed. Manage this as you would a normal period.
Once this bleeding has stopped, if you are still showing signs of incontinence, no matter how occasional, choose an appropriate incontinence pad. They not only absorb urine, which sanitary pads don’t do very well, they also trap the urine smell.

Will pelvic floor exercises help? How soon after birth can I start doing them?

Pelvic floor exercises are clench and release exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor muscle. This is the muscle that helps you control your bladder.
It makes sense that the stronger this muscle, the better control you have over when you urinate. You can start pelvic floor exercises any time – some women do them throughout pregnancy and start them as soon after birth as they can.
You may find that if you deliver vaginally, it takes you a few days to feel your vaginal muscles again, as well as have the confidence to clench these muscles because everything is sore!
When you do them, pelvic floor exercises shouldn’t be painful. If they are, talk to your midwife.

Should I visit the toilet more often?

Our pre-pregnancy and birth habits can be very different to those we have when baby comes along. If you tend to leave going to the bathroom to the last minute, it can cause a few problems in that it can make your incontinence seem worse than it is.
As soon as you feel the urge to urinate, go to the bathroom – don’t delay! Some women also find that setting a routine in the first few days or weeks after birth to go to the toilet helps them improve control over their bladder.

What shouldn’t I do?

Don’t limit fluid intake assuming that this is causing your incontinence. It isn’t. Conversely, not drinking enough can make incontinence worse.
This is because your urine will become more concentrated, irritating the bladder and possibly cause you to feel you need to urinate but when you go to the toilet, you urinate very little. It can also be problematic in that is causes a UTI.
And with breastfeeding, you need to maintain your fluid intake to make plenty of milk too.
Rather than gulping drinks or having one big drink, drink little and often. Water is best and limit your intake of caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, hot chocolate), tapering off your fluid intake in the evening to help reduce nighttime bathroom visits.

Does incontinence after birth last forever?

No, with pelvic floor exercises and hormones settling down after birth, most women find that it either stops completely or is a rare occurrence.
If you find it goes on for several weeks or becomes worse, talk to your midwife or pop along to see you practice nurse or GP. There are options and treatments available so don’t be frightened to ask.


Stocking a range of incontinence products, HARTMANN Direct is an online retailer, discreetly delivering products to customers all over the UK. 

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