Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Incontinence and Pregnancy – The Facts

Few mothers-to-be manage to make it through their pregnancy without experiencing at least some side effects. These can range from headaches, stretch marks and fatigue to more embarrassing things like wind, constipation and nausea. But one symptom of pregnancy that many women don't feel comfortable talking about is incontinence. Urinary incontinence is thought to affect up to 50% of women during pregnancy and even after they have given birth too. If you are an expectant mom who is suffering from urinary incontinence during or after yourpregnancy then here are all of the facts along with some helpful tips on managing the condition.

What is urinary incontinence?
In short, urinary incontinence is when a person is unable to fully control their bladder function meaning that they involuntarily pass urine when they don't expect to. There are different types of urinary incontinence one of which is stress incontinence which is when extra pressure on the bladder may make you leak a little urine when you engage in strenuous activity or even if you just laugh or sneeze. There is also urge incontinence (also known as an overactive bladder) when you get the sudden urge to urinate which may mean you don't have enough time to get to the bathroom before leaking. Both can be embarrassing and upsetting and can be affected or exacerbated by other factors such as age, weight and other underlying medical conditions.

Why do pregnant women experience urinary incontinence?
Medical textbooks suggest that there are a number of reasons why rates of urinary incontinence is higher in pregnant women. The sudden weight gain and position of the uterus on top of the bladder puts a lot of pressure on the muscles supporting the bladder as the baby grows. Not only this but as women approach delivery their hormones change to allow greater elasticity in their pelvic floor muscles to allow for the baby to be born. This too will affect the muscles that work at keeping urine in the bladder until you are ready to release it and also make pregnant women more prone to urinary incontinence. One study suggests that up to 72% of women also suffer from constipation during pregnancy due to hormonal changes that slow down the digestive process. This may cause a bloating or heavy feeling in the bowel which can also put extra pressure on the bladder and surrounding muscles.

What about after childbirth?
Many people assume that after a women has given birth everything will go back to normal and in some cases this can happen. However damage can occur to the nerves and tissues surrounding the bladder during childbirth to the point where the positioning of the bladder and urethra may even permanently change which will affect bladder function. Vaginal stretching and trauma to the pelvic floor muscles will also impair bladder control, particularly if you have had an episiotomy during childbirth – when a cut is made to allow the baby to be born more easily. In many cases a woman who has not previously experienced urinary incontinence before pregnancy should find that the condition naturally improves a few months after giving birth. For some others it may be necessary to seek medical advice.

How can I manage urinary incontinence during pregnancy?
Experiencing urinary incontinence during pregnancy can be tough. It can cause embarrassment, stress and anxiety – none of which are good for expectant mothers. There are things that you can do during pregnancy to try and control your bladder function. Many antenatal groups will give advice and guidance in bladder training which is where you monitor the amount of time taken between going to the bathroom and try to gradually lengthen it to encourage the bladder to hold more.

There are also ways of managing your diet that can help improve bladder function such as avoiding spicy foods which will irritate the bladder and trying to ensure that you stay well hydrated by drinking a lot of water. Although drinking more may sound like the last thing you want to do when experiencing urinary incontinence, becoming dehydrated will make your urine more concentrated and this will also irritate the bladder making you feel the urge to go more suddenly. To help avoid embarrassing situations and give you that important peace of mind when you are out and about, you should also check out our range of incontinence underwear and pads.

What are pelvic floor exercises?
One of the most effective techniques to help improve bladder control is pelvic floor exercises. These are simple and can be done from the comfort of your own home (or just about anywhere really) and they will strengthen and tighten the muscles in the bladder region, particularly those responsible for holding in your urine. Healthcare professionals can provide information on the correct way to perform these exercises but they usually involve tightening the muscles and holding this pose for up to ten seconds, then relaxing and repeating the motion a set amount of times.  

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