Pop culture and memes like to make light of moms who accidentally pee when they sneeze, jump or pick things up. But the truth is, postpartum incontinence is a frustrating reality for a surprising number of women.
Because urinary incontinence is such a common concern I hear among my female patients, I’d like to discuss (and hopefully reduce the stigma surrounding) this important issue, including what it is, who’s affected and how working with a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor dysfunction can help.
What is incontinence?
Incontinence is the inability to control your bladder and/or bowel movements. If you’re a mom with urinary incontinence, you might notice things such as:
• Letting out a little urine when you exert pressure on your bladder during activities such as sneezing, laughing or jumping.
• Feeling like you have to go a lot.
• Feeling like you have to go urgently or suddenly.
Postpartum urinary incontinence is often related to pelvic floor dysfunction. So, in addition to accidental leakage, you also might experience other symptoms, such as pelvic pain, constipation and abdominal separation.
Anywhere from one-third to more than one-half of pregnant women experience some amount of urinary incontinence. Incontinence also persists well after labor and delivery for many new moms.
One study published earlier this year in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology: X found that one in six women still experience urinary incontinence at least three months after giving birth.
Why so common? Let’s think about the mechanics of a “baby bump.” As a baby grows in the womb, the bladder (which sits right below the uterus) gets compressed. Because of this, the bladder has less room to expand, which can lead to a frequent sense of urgency and make it more difficult for a woman to control her urine.
But it’s not just the bump. Structural and hormonal changes in pregnancy, in addition to labor and delivery itself, can cause stretch-out and weaken a woman’s pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are essential for holding the pelvic organs in place and controlling the release of urine and stool. So, if these muscles become damaged or strained, incontinence and other issues like pelvic organ prolapse or pelvic pain can show up.
Not everyone who gets pregnant will experience urinary incontinence, but factors like a history of urinary tract infections or previous pregnancies may increase your risk.
Of course, if you’re experiencing incontinence during or after pregnancy, then statistics aren’t as important to you as finding meaningful solutions. Here’s where physical therapy comes into play.
Pelvic floor physical therapy has been shown to help prevent and treat urinary incontinence. This type of care is provided by physical therapists who specialize in pelvic floor health and have advanced training in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of conditions related to dysfunction of the pelvic floor muscles.
At PhysioFit, our pelvic floor physical therapists work with a wide range of women looking for relief from urinary incontinence following pregnancy. Relying on years of clinical experience and decades of scientific research, we create comprehensive and customized treatment plans that help restore the strength, coordination and alignment of pelvic floor muscles; alleviate symptoms; and prevent symptom recurrence.
If you see a physical therapist for pelvic floor dysfunction, expect a range of services that will address your body’s particular needs – including manual therapy, biofeedback training, exercises and stretches, postural awareness techniques, and more.
Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness in Los Altos. For more information, call (650) 887-6046 or visit physiofitpt.com.