Weak bladder after birth – why you’re not the only one

Having a slightly weak bladder happens to a surprising number of women, and it's particularly common after birth. So what does it mean - and more importantly, what can you do?

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It’s not something that gets talked about very much, but if you worry that you might ‘have a little leak’ sometimes when you cough, laugh or sneeze, you’re not alone. One in two women experience what’s known as light bladder weakness at some time during their lives.

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It’s particularly common after giving birth – hardly surprising given all the changes your body has been through over the past nine months. However, the good news is that there are easy ways to tackle it so that you don’t need to worry about little leaks when you have a giggle.

What is light bladder weakness?

Light bladder weakness happens when your pelvic floor muscles weaken. It means that if you cough or laugh – or even sneeze or lift something heavy – you leak a little urine, as the pelvic floor muscles cannot tighten enough to keep the urethra (the tube that takes urine out of the bladder) closed as they have in the past.

Why can it happen after giving birth?

Light bladder weakness is most commonly caused when your pelvic floor muscles lose their strength and elasticity. These muscles support the bladder and keep the urethra closed. Hormonal changes, pressure of the womb on your bladder through pregnancy and then the physical exertions of actually giving birth all take their toll on the pelvic floor muscles and stop them being as efficient.

How long can it last?

If you experience light bladder weakness during or just after pregnancy, the good news is that it is often a temporary condition that can be tackled by practising pelvic floor exercises. If your condition is mild or moderate, then it’s likely that doing your pelvic floor exercises regularly for three to six months could see an end to your problems. And the even better news is that if you practise them properly and regularly, you’ll notice an improvement in just a few weeks.

How many women can it affect?

Around 62% of women between the ages of 18-55 experience some form of light bladder weakness* and very commonly after birth, so you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone! In fact it’s so common we’re surprised it isn’t mentioned by more midwives when explaining all the candid details about giving birth.

How can I treat it?

Pelvic floor exercises are the secret of success! And it’s never too late to start. Even if you didn’t do many or any during pregnancy, you can still make a difference now.

If you do the exercises correctly and regularly, you could begin to notice improvements in just a few weeks. These exercises can be done whenever you like – standing in the queue at the supermarket, or waiting at the school gates if you feel the urge! They will help to tone up and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Read our step-by-step guide to pelvic floor exercises.

If I drink less, will this help?

No – don’t try to cut down on your fluid intake. This will just result in your urine being more concentrated, which in turn will irritate your bladder and you’ll end up needing to go for a wee more often. Mind you, don’t go the other way and try to drink excessive amounts – this can make the bladder stretch and exacerbate the problem. Remember that caffeine, fizzy drinks and alcohol are all diuretics, which will make you go to the toilet more.

What else can I try?

Little leaks can be embarrassing, and you have enough to be getting on with looking after your new baby and enjoying your new life as a mum, without worrying about light bladder weakness.

So, while you work on your pelvic floor exercises, you may find some extra protection helps. You need something designed specifically for light bladder weakness – ordinary sanitary towels won’t do the job properly and are likely to leave you feeling damp and uncomfortable. Specially designed liners or towels are designed to absorb any liquid quickly and help you feel less worried.

One mum’s experience

“After an assisted delivery, I was advised to attend a pelvic floor clinic, but I felt too busy. Six months on, things weren’t right – if I had a full bladder I’d have to dash to the loo at once to avoid disaster. So I went to the clinic and learnt how to do the exercises. Even though I’m now fine, I still do them daily. Pelvic floor training is for life, not just for pregnancy.”
Christine, 28, mum to Jane, 5, and Charlotte, 2

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*Survey of 1,007 women, between the ages of 18 and 55

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