When you’re pregnant your body produces hormones that make the tissues and muscles supporting your bladder, bowel and uterus more stretchy than normal. These tissues and muscles make up your pelvic floor. The hormones, combined with the weight of your baby, mean that your pelvic floor can weaken.
The combination of the pregnancy hormones and the stretching of childbirth can lead to problems with incontinence. Having a weak pelvic floor makes it harder for you to squeeze the muscles at the bottom of your bladder to stop urine escaping.
The accidental leak of wee when you laugh, sneeze, cough or exercise, is called stress incontinence. It’s one of the most common problems among new mums. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles will help you actively support your bladder and bowel. This improves bladder and bowel control and can reduce or stop leakage of urine and bowel motions. Like other muscles, the pelvic floor muscles become stronger with a regular exercise program.
If you’re still experiencing leaks when you have your postnatal check, about six weeks after your baby is born, tell your midwife, doctor or child health nurse.
Get back in control
To recover your bladder control you’ll need to do pelvic floor exercises at least three times a day and make them part of your life. If you stop doing the exercises your muscles can weaken and you may find that your bladder-control problems return.
Even if you had a rough birth with stitches and bruising, you’re best to start your exercises as quickly as possible after giving birth.
How do I do pelvic floor exercises?
Squeeze and draw in the muscles around your back passage, vagina and front passage and lift up inside as if trying to stop passing wind and wee at the same time. Try to hold the muscles strong and tight as you count to 8. Now let them go and relax. Repeat the squeeze 10 times, three times a day. You can sneak this exercise in while breastfeeding, driving or watching television.
If pelvic floor exercises are not helping, ask your doctor to refer you to a women’s health physiotherapist.
Learn how to correctly exercise your pelvic floor muscles
It is very important to correctly identify your pelvic floor muscles before moving into a regular pelvic floor muscle exercise program. There are many ways that you can learn more about your pelvic floor muscles. These include visiting:
- a continence and women’s health or pelvic floor physiotherapist
- a continence nurse advisor, or
- contacting the National Continence Foundation Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 for free advice and access to a wide range of information.
You should see a health professional if you have difficulty identifying the correct muscles, are unsure if you are performing the exercises correctly or continue to experience symptoms.