Light bladder leakage: More common than you think
Light bladder leakage - or LBL - is more common among women who have given birth than we think. Suze English shares her story and some facts and tips around having a weak pelvic floor
I was having a lovely time at my daughter’s first birthday party – the whole family had shown up for a celebration of my little one’s milestone and my own achievement of surviving the first year of motherhood.
Everything was going smoothly … until my daughter climbed into one of the boxes a gift came in, and refused to open any more. We all burst into gales of laughter – and that was the moment I realised I was going to have to run for it.
It was either head straight for the loo, or have an embarrassing accident right there in front of forty guests.
I am not the only one…
I’m sure a few mums know the feeling caused by that pesky thing so many of us come out of pregnancy and childbirth with: no, not a baby, a weak bladder or pelvic floor. For some, it’s just a light hint of a trickle when we sneeze, giggle or strain to lift something.
For others, it’s something a little more bothersome that means we need to regularly wear pads and always, always, know the location of the nearest toilet. And God help anyone who happens to be lined up before you.
Research released in Australia recently shows that 46 percent of women experience some degree of incontinence during pregnancy with up to 30 percent having an incontinence problem following delivery – Light Bladder Leakage (LBL) currently affects or has affected 69 percent of Australian women.
How I handled it
I ended up visiting my doctor, who referred me to a physiotherapist who specialised in women’s pelvic floor and postnatal issues. She was wonderfully understanding and helped me to realise that I was just one of many new mums suffering through the same thing.
She gave me some physio and sent me home with some exercises to try – and even a couple for my partner to help me with! It was so worth the visit, mainly because she helped me to realise how normal I was. And that this did NOT have to be a lifelong issue.
Which is apparently a common worry for women. I’m here to tell you – a weak pelvic floor and light bladder leakage CAN be helped! So keep reading.
Common signs that can indicate a pelvic floor problem include:
- Accidentally leaking urine when you exercise, laugh, cough or sneeze.
- Needing to get to the toilet in a hurry or not making it there in time.
- Constantly needing to go to the toilet.
- Finding it difficult to empty your bladder or bowel.
- Accidentally losing control of your bladder or bowel.
- Accidentally passing wind.
- A or – in women with this may be felt as a bulge in the vagina or a feeling of heaviness, discomfort, pulling, dragging or dropping; in men this may be felt as a bulge in the rectum or a feeling of needing to use their bowels but not actually needing to go.
- Pain in your pelvic area.
- Painful sex.
(Read more here on your pelvic floor and how to keep it strong and healthy after birth.)
How to avoid and treat pelvic floor weakness and incontinence
Weakened pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened through a regular ‘training’ program. It is recommended visiting a health professional (quite often this will be a physiotherapist who specialises in women’s postnatal issues) to help you to correctly identify your pelvic floor muscles before moving into a regular pelvic floor muscle exercise program.
The first step is a visit to your doctor, to help you explore the options for treating your symptoms. There are many avenues of help available. In the case of prolapse, surgery to repair the pelvic floor may be necessary. For some women, a vaginal pessary may be an alternative.
Five handy tips to manage LBL
Tips provided by the Australian research:
- 1. Hit the floor: While protection is a key part of managing any bladder weakness problem, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, staying fit and specifically strengthening these weak muscles, pelvic floor exercises can play a vital role in the prevention and recovery from a number of bladder related problems.
- 2. Food rules: Certain foods and drinks can irritate bladders. Citrus fruits, tomatoes or hot spices may have this effect on you. Try keeping a bladder diary to see which ones may be affecting your bladder weakness.
- 3. One glass too many: Alcohol and caffeine can seem to be essentials in a girl’s life. But as well as dehydrating the body, they can also irritate the bladder making you want to urinate before you need to. Ensure you drink plenty of water. A good measure is for every coffee or alcoholic drink, match it with one glass of water. Your bladder (and head) will thank you for it.
- 4. Eat well: Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods, including fibre for a healthy bowel, protein for muscle repair and drink plenty of water (1.5 litres a day) to keep your system flushed. People who eat a variety of food are generally healthier, live longer and have a reduced risk of developing illnesses such as diabetes (a major cause of bladder weakness).
- 5. Get the right help: Despite its prevalence, approximately 60 percent of people suffering from urinary incontinence do not seek professional help for their condition. Don’t be embarrassed – it is more common than you think. Start by having a chat to your GP who can guide you to methods and professionals who can help you.
Exercising your pelvic floor muscles (Kegels)
Pelvic floor exercises are also known as Kegel exercises, after Dr Arnold Kegel, who first described them. Keeping your pelvic floor muscles strong is the BEST way to avoid incontinence or light bladder leaks. It is recommended that all women practise Kegel exercises throughout life to maintain strength and prevent weakness, particularly once they discover they are pregnant. Keeping them strong throughout the pressures of pregnancy and birth will almost always lead to a better outcome afterwards.
Exercise 1 is a long hold for strength. It can be done when you’re either sitting, standing, lying on your back with your knees and legs comfortably apart, or kneeling on your hands and knees (you’ll find a diagram of the correct positions here). Close your eyes, tighten your pelvic floor muscles as strongly as possible and hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat up to 10 times, resting for a few seconds between each squeeze. Try to do three sets a day in different positions if you can.
Exercise 2 is a quick squeeze for power. Squeeze and lift your pelvic floor muscles as strongly as possible. Do not hold on to the contraction, simply squeeze and let go. Rest for a few seconds between each squeeze. Repeat 10-20 times, and try to do this exercise one to three times a day.
It’s important to do these exercises correctly. You need to keep your thighs and buttocks relaxed, breathe normally, and feel your pelvic floor muscles lift ‘up’ inside you, rather than feeling a downward movement. Practising the wrong technique will not help and may make problems worse.
Regular gentle walking will also exercise your pelvic floor muscles.
Read more about pelvic floor and Kegel exercises on Kidspot:
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