One of the biggest predictors of urinary incontinence is pregnancy – the more pregnancies a woman has had, the greater the prevalence of urinary incontinence, also known as bladder weakness. And interestingly, the biggest increase in risk occurs when you go from having had no children to one child.
In fact, the EPINCONT study conducted in Norway showed that if you had no children, your risk of incontinence would be 10%. Vaginal delivery increased that to 21% and a C-section increased the risk to 16%.
With this in mind, and with figures that indicate up to 40% of women experience bladder weakness as a result of pregnancy, the focus of this year’s World Continence week, being held from 23 to 29 June, is Pelvic Floor Exercise in Pregnancy, Childbirth and Beyond. The difference between the two forms of childbirth is because of the child’s head going through the birth canal. But experts say this is not good enough case for more C-sections, estimating they would have to do eight to nine C-sections to protect one woman from bladder weakness. Vaginal delivery is still preferred because C-sections carry other risks.
There are also other factors that contribute to bladder weakness – being overweight also heightens your risk of incontinence – each BMI unit you add to your body composition increases your risk of urinary incontinence by 8%. (A normal BMI is below 25.) So it’s vital that all women – whether or not they are mothers – ensure they stick to a healthy body weight. Pelvic floor health is a crucial step in preventing incontinence and should be practised by all women of childbearing age before, during and after pregnancy to keep the risk of urinary incontinence as low as possible. Clinical trials show that pregnant women who do proper pelvic floor exercises are half as likely to experience incontinence in late pregnancy than women who do not, and are also less likely to have symptoms six months after their baby is born.
The pelvic floor muscles run around the anus where they converge, and then continue around the vagina and urethra. After giving birth, the area may feel tender and it may be hard to clench the muscles. To start with, lie on your back or side with your knees bent. Clench the sphincter around your anus, then clench forwards and upwards around the vagina and the opening of the urethra. Imagine you’re doing up a ‘zip’ up, starting from the back and clenching all the way forward to your clitoris. Do several gentle clenches, ideally 20, one after the other, and do these exercises daily. And if you are struggling with urine leakage, a purpose-designed incontinence product is a must. TENA’s products are designed to deal with issues beyond leakage and odour – they absorb liquid fast, limiting the time any moisture is in contact with your skin. They also have superb retention properties, and the material is designed so that the liquid spreads through it, ensuring that no single area is soaked through.