What is it & why does it happen?

What is stress incontinence?

Stress incontinence is the most common form of incontinence to affect women, especially during pregnancy. It is when you leak a little urine when you laugh, sneeze, cough, run, jump or even lift heavy things.

As many as 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, as a result, leak before you can get to the bathroom.

What causes stress incontinence during pregnancy?

Stress incontinence during pregnancy is caused by the growing uterus resting on the bladder and its supporting ligaments, causing the ligaments and surrounding muscles to stretch. When those structures become more relaxed they're less effective at supporting the bladder, which in turn can lead to bladder weakness.

Another cause of stress incontinence during pregnancy is the hormones that make your tissues and joints more elastic and ready for delivery. These hormones can weaken the muscles that control the release of urine from your bladder and this stops them from working correctly. Constipation, which is common in pregnancy can also put a strain on your pelvic floor.

What causes stress incontinence after pregnancy?

After you give birth to your baby, your pelvic floor muscles stretch and weaken even further. It is therefore very common for new mums to experience some stress incontinence in the first year after having their baby.

How much you leak and how long this will last will depend on how you gave birth, what happened during labour and whether you had incontinence problems during pregnancy. For some women the problem goes away within a few weeks of giving birth. For others, it can continue for some months.

If you're still experiencing leaks when you have your post-natal check at about six weeks after your baby is born, talk to your midwife or doctor.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

The pelvic floor is a set of muscles, ligaments and tissues that stretch across your pelvic bones; they support your pelvic organs which include your uterus, vagina, bladder and bowels.

During pregnancy strain can be placed on the pelvic floor leading to stress incontinence for new mums.

Taking a few minutes every day, can help strengthen the pelvic floor and these exercises can be done during pregnancy and as soon as you feel comfortable after the birth of your baby. They can be done mostly anywhere and no one will know (but you!) that you are doing them.

Here is our guide to strengthening the pelvic floor:

  • Sit, leaning forward slightly with a straight back
  • Breathing normally, squeeze and lift muscles as if you are trying to stop a wee.
  • Hold the squeeze as you count to 8, then gently relax for 8 seconds.
  • Repeat this 8-12 times more, you will find as time goes by you can build up the amount of repetitions you can do.
  • NEVER be tempted to do your pelvic floor exercises when on the toilet urinating as stopping the flow mid-stream could lead to the bladder not being completely emptied and urinary tract infections being contracted.

Read our other advice articles:

Pregnancy and what happens to your body Preparing Your Hospital Bag What To Expect After Birth Looking After You Getting Back To Normal Contact Us