Surprise delivery: Postpartum urinary incontinence

The what, the why — and easy ways to stay dry.

You have a baby, and suddenly, you’ve gotta go. Now. Or, you leak every time you sneeze, laugh or workout. Those little leaks and urges to pee are often joked about as a rite of motherhood. But it can be embarrassing and stressful when you’re sleep-deprived and adapting to life with a newborn. This incredibly common problem is called postpartum urinary incontinence (UI). And it arrives with a bundle of questions: Does bladder leakage happen to every new mom? Will it eventually go away on its own? What should I use to stay dry? In the spirit of parenthood, let’s figure it out. 

New moms with urinary incontinence are not alone. In fact, this postpartum condition affects at least 7 million women in the U.S.1 A urogynecology expert quoted in Parents magazine notes that even a routine pregnancy and delivery can weaken urinary control for up to 50 percent of women.1 According to a study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, new moms who delivered vaginally are almost twice as likely to have urinary incontinence one year postpartum, compared to women who had C-sections.1

While most cases of postpartum urinary incontinence resolve themselves in the first year after birth, others continue indefinitely — past toddlerhood and preschool years. A full five years after delivery, one-third to one-half of women report some degree of incontinence; 10 percent to 20 percent of women experience leakage that bothers them socially.2 It’s baby steps to reach that point. This common issue begins to develop long before delivery:

  • During pregnancy, baby grows and puts pressure on the pelvic floor and bladder
  • A vaginal birth can stretch or damage muscles, which can cause stress incontinence to appear after delivery, even if it wasn’t a problem during pregnancy.
  • Postpartum stress incontinence often clears up during the first year or so after birth, as the body heals and breastfeeding ends.

It’s important to choose pads specifically designed for incontinence, and not menstruation. Why? Menstruation pads and liners don’t absorb as much liquid as bladder pads, so your skin could become irritated if it’s in prolonged contact with urine.2 Luckily, you’ve got options when it comes to continence care. For lighter leaks, try a bladder pad, like Medline FitRight Bladder Pads. They’re uniquely contoured to a woman’s shape, which means leaks are less likely. For a heavier flow, or overnight protection, FitRight disposable underwear, are made to fit a woman’s body for better coverage.


Stress or Urge Incontinence

Which type describes you?

Stress Urinary Incontinence
Think: pressure. If you leak when you forcefully laugh, sneeze, cough, run, jump or lift weights, you have stress incontinence. Stress UI is really common in the third trimester because of the pressure of the uterus on the bladder. Compounding the problem are the hormones that make your tissues and joints more elastic for delivery: They also reduce bladder support, allowing urine to leak.

Urge Urinary Incontinence
Gotta go. About two-thirds of women with stress incontinence also experience urge incontinence, which is caused by an overactive bladder. You get the sudden urge to go, even though your bladder may be nearly empty, and leak before you can get to the bathroom.

Regardless of which type of incontinence you have, there’s something you can do about it


6 ways to retrain your bladder after pregnancy

  • Key in on kegels: Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles with regular Kegel exercises. Try to work up to three sets of 30 Kegel exercises a day.3
  • Lighten up: Shed the baby weight sensibly, since all those extra pounds are still putting pressure on your bladder.
  • Retrain your bladder. Scheduling your bathroom trips in a consistent pattern helps to build muscle memory for your mind and body. First, determine how often you currently go to the bathroom, then increase the time between trips by 15 minutes. So, if you go every hour, try every hour and 15 minutes. Add another 15 minutes every few days. Your goal should be to go three–four hours between trips. That’s the average interval for someone with a strong bladd4
  • Heavily hydrate. It may seem counter-intuitive, but keep drinking at least eight glasses of fluids every day. Cutting back on water to control urination only makes you vulnerable to dehydration and urinary tract infections.
  • Eat and drink clean. Avoid citrus, tomatoes, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine — all of which can irritate your bladder and make urine harder to control.
  • Pick the right pad. Use pads specifically designed for continence care to help absorb leaking urine.

Just like the terrible (or terrific!) two’s, this, too, shall pass. And if it doesn’t, talk to your doctor about long-term solutions for postpartum urinary incontinence. In the meantime, find comfortable leak protection to feel clean, dry and in control

REFERENCES. 1. Schlosberg, S. and Tracey Zemitis, T. Your Guide To Incontinence After Birth, Parents magazine: 2. Hobson, K. Peeing Your Pants After Pregnancy Is Preventable: 3. Loss of Bladder Control Postpartum, What To Expect: 4. Bladder Control: Lifestyle strategies ease problems. All sources accessed October 24, 2019.