During pregnancy, your body produces new hormones and increases the levels of other hormones. This changes almost every part of your body, even during the earliest weeks of pregnancy. As the developing fetus grows, your uterus also grows and puts pressure on your pelvic and abdominal organs.
Your bladder is one of these organs.
The uterus's position directly on top of your bladder and the change of hormones means that you may experience some loss of bladder control. This is normal. It's important to know that incontinence during pregnancy is nothing to be ashamed of, and it happens to more women than you might think.
Incontinence during pregnancy is when you leak some urine between trips to the bathroom. You may already be urinating frequently because of hormone changes and your growing uterus. Even if you go to the bathroom every 30 minutes, it's still possible to have some urine leakage between bathroom breaks.
Incontinence during pregnancy is particularly common during physical activity or when you cough, laugh or sneeze. This is because your muscles have more stress put on them during those activities. The internal pressure from a cough, laugh or sneeze may be just enough to relax the sphincter, resulting in some urine leaking.
As the bladder fills with urine, it relaxes. Strong sphincter muscles keep it closed. Nerves send impulses to those muscles when the sphincter needs to relax, which allows the bladder to empty. When you're pregnant, changes in your hormones further increase the relaxation of your muscles. Pressure from the growing fetus puts stress on the same muscles. For some new moms, the incontinence continues for a few weeks after delivery.
Constipation during pregnancy may also cause incontinence. The fullness of the colon puts more pressure on your bladder.
If your birth required the use of forceps, you're at a higher risk of incontinence after delivery. Forceps can damage the muscles and nerves of the bladder's sphincter.
Prolonged pushing at delivery may also cause incontinence after delivering your baby. This is also related to the nerve and muscle damage, which takes a few weeks to heal. If you develop pelvic organ prolapse after delivery, you also have a higher risk of temporary incontinence after birth.
Symptoms of pregnancy-related incontinence include a frequent urge to urinate and a feeling as if your bladder is not empty after urinating. For most women, incontinence is just a few dribbles of urine. You're most likely to notice it when exercising, laying on your back, coughing or sneezing.
Few women need any medical treatment for pregnancy incontinence. In almost every case, it can be managed with lifestyle changes such as consuming less fluids later in the day. This could minimize incontinence in the evening and overnight. It will also decrease the number of times you have to wake up overnight in order to urinate (a condition known as “nocturia”).
Also, make sure you're getting enough fiber. A diet high in fiber will help you avoid constipation. If you're taking iron for pregnancy-induced anemia, ask your doctor if there's a supplement that won't cause constipation.
You may be able to prevent the frequency of incontinence during pregnancy or even eliminate it by doing Kegel exercises. These are pelvic floor exercises that you can practice at any time. Simply tighten them as if you are trying to stop the flow of urine mid-stream. Hold this for a few seconds at a time. Repeat the tightening a few times.
Doing this throughout your pregnancy strengthens your pelvic floor, reduces your risk of incontinence and may even help you with the pushing phase of childbirth.
There are several ways you can manage incontinence during and after your pregnancy. While staying hydrated prevents constipation and helps with swelling, it's important to avoid caffeine. Drinking caffeinated beverages could add to your urinary leakage.
As soon as you feel the urge to urinate, go to the bathroom. Trying to hold it puts more stress on your bladder. Take note of what times of the day you have urine leakage. If there's a pattern, you might be able to change your schedule and go to the bathroom before there's a leak.
Watching your weight gain during pregnancy may also help you manage incontinence. Ask your healthcare provider about the right amount of weight gain for you and the recommended rate of weight gain for each trimester.
Whether you have early pregnancy incontinence or issues with bladder control closer to your delivery date, you might feel ashamed or embarrassed. Know that this is not your fault, and you should not feel bad about yourself.
For almost all women, the incontinence will go away after childbirth. This happens once the pregnancy hormones are out of your body and the uterus goes back to its normal size. If you have concerns about incontinence or bladder control problems during pregnancy or after giving birth, contact All About Women today.