You go to pick up your newborn baby… and feel a little bit of urine leak out. While you may be totally embarrassed, postpartum incontinence is actually relatively common in the first few months following birth. It is important, therefore, that we destigmatize the conversation around urinary incontinence so that postpartum birthing parents do not feel isolated and unsupported by the experience.
Below, we explain why incontinence happens postpartum and what you can do to help your body recover.
Pregnancy & Postpartum Incontinence
Incontinence refers to the involuntary leakage of urine, and it can actually begin in the later stages of your pregnancy. The bigger the baby grows, the more pressure it puts on your pelvic floor muscles, which are the muscles that control your bladder, among other things. This extra pressure can cause urine to leak out even when you don’t want it to. This is totally normal, and wearing bladder leakage pads can help keep you dry and comfortable as you wait to give birth.
This bladder leakage can continue after pregnancy, or postpartum incontinence may begin after giving birth. Giving birth strains the pelvic floor muscles, which can result in some loss of control over your bladder. Your muscles might also be a bit stretched out from supporting the baby for so long, and they need time to go back to their original size. There are some factors that increase your chances of developing postpartum incontinence, including low pelvic floor strength, incontinence before pregnancy, the onset of incontinence during pregnancy, and giving birth to a newborn 6.6 pounds or greater.
For the first three months after birth, it’s normal to leak urine whenever you do something that puts stress on your pelvic floor muscles, including coughing, sneezing, laughing, and lifting your baby. You might also need to use the restroom more frequently or have overwhelming, sudden urges to urinate. You should see a gradual improvement in your symptoms, with normal urinary control resuming around three months after giving birth. If you are still struggling with urinary control after three months have passed, talk to your doctor about what you can do to treat your incontinence.
Building Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
Postpartum incontinence is nothing to be ashamed of, and many women struggle with it temporarily after giving birth. That being said, there are some things that you can do to reduce your chances of developing postpartum incontinence and speed up the recovery process if you do develop it. The main thing you can do is to build your pelvic floor muscles so that they are stronger and recover more quickly. (As an added bonus, strengthening your pelvic floor can also make the birth process go easier and help you recover in other ways.)
The most common pelvic floor exercise is a Kegel. To perform a Kegel, you lie down on your back on a supportive surface (an exercise mat on the floor works perfectly). Relax the rest of your muscles and focus on the pelvic floor. If you’ve ever stopped your urine midstream, you’re trying to engage these same muscles. Tighten the pelvic muscles for three seconds at a time and then relax for six seconds. Be careful not to contract other muscles, such as your abdominal muscles or your thighs and butt. Try to perform three sets of 10-15 repetitions each day.
If you need help identifying your pelvic floor muscles, or you want to increase the intensity of your exercises, then you might consider using a Kegel ball. These balls are inserted into the vagina and may be weighted to make the exercises more difficult. Kegel balls should not be used directly after giving birth, as the entire pelvic area needs time to heal before you insert something into it. If you want to use Kegel balls after pregnancy to help with postpartum incontinence, talk to your doctor about when and how it’s safe to use them.
Caring for Yourself Post-Pregnancy
Incontinence at any time can be frustrating and embarrassing, and it’s just one more thing you have to deal with after giving birth. It’s understandable that you might want to push yourself and try to get your incontinence under control as soon as possible. However, it’s really important that you give your body the time and space it needs to recover. Giving birth is a major event, whether you give birth vaginally or via C-section. You may have straining, tearing, or stitches, and your body needs time to recover from it!
That’s why it’s best to take it easy and let your muscles heal up in those weeks after pregnancy and not push yourself to do pelvic floor exercises. In fact, trying to work out your muscles too soon can actually strain and injure them further, which will make the incontinence worse and prolong your recovery time. You wouldn’t try to do a leg workout the day after running a marathon, so why would you jump straight into pelvic floor exercises after giving birth?
When you leave the hospital, they will likely give you absorbent, disposable underwear to help catch any fluid leakage, including urine. The vaginal discharge will be most heavy during the first couple of days but can last up to six weeks, and any pads that you wear during this time will also catch any urine leakage. This will keep you dry and comfortable while you wait for those muscles to heal up. Once your doctor clears you, then you can start carefully working out your pelvic floor muscles a little bit at a time.
Pregnancy itself is a long process, and it takes the better part of a year to nurture a baby until it’s ready to be born. Recovery from pregnancy is also a long process, and while it’s not the most fun, it’s totally normal to experience things like incontinence. Be kind to yourself and your body and give it the time it needs to recover. Just like pregnancy doesn’t last forever, neither does the postpartum period, and you will eventually start to feel more like yourself again.
Sofia & Grace specializes in curating a collection of the industry’s top bladder control products for every woman. Their mission is to destigmatize bladder leakage to keep women feeling beautiful, confident, and unstoppable.