Many women have varied health experiences during pregnancy, from morning sickness to the frequent need to head to the bathroom. Pregnancy incontinence, or leaking urine during pregnancy, is more common than most recognise, affecting nearly 55% of women who are expecting. Incontinence during pregnancy is simply the involuntary loss of urine, but the medical issue can range from mild to severe depending on the type of incontinence diagnosed. Before understanding the strategies for treating pregnancy incontinence, it is helpful for women to know how leaking urine comes about and the risk factors associated with the common condition.
Breaking Down Pregnancy Incontinence
The vast majority of women who experience incontinence throughout pregnancy have stress incontinence which is the loss of urine caused by increased pressure placed on the bladder. The muscles that work to control the bladder do not function properly when stress incontinence is an issue, leaving women with loss of urine on a regular basis. In other cases, women may have an overactive bladder that’s resulting in incontinence. When an overactive bladder is a cause of leaking urine, the bladder experiences frequent spasms or contractions that cannot be controlled easily. With either type of pregnancy incontinence, women may have more severe incontinence during the latter months of the pregnancy given the added pressure placed on the bladder from a growing child. After giving birth, women may have continued issues with incontinence due to weakened muscles, damaged nerves, or an otherwise malfunctioning pelvic floor that makes maintaining control over bladder functions difficult.
Pregnancy incontinence can be caused by several outside factors, including a change in hormones throughout pregnancy, medical conditions like diabetes or multiple sclerosis, and even some prescription medications. For some patients, incontinence is the result of an untreated urinary tract infection that develops during the pregnancy. Additionally, women are at a higher risk of developing pregnancy incontinence when they have certain risk factors present. For instance, those who are older when they become pregnant may experience incontinence, as may those who carry excess weight prior to becoming pregnant. Women who have had a previous vaginal delivery of a child or a pelvic surgery in the past are also more prone to experiencing incontinence during pregnancy. Individuals who smoked before becoming pregnant and those with a family history of stroke are also likely to experience incontinence to some degree while carrying a child to term.
Options for Treatment
Incontinence during pregnancy is an uncomfortable and often embarrassing condition that requires some intervention on behalf of the patient. Most doctors recommend subtle lifestyle changes to help with the severity of incontinence throughout pregnancy, including watching how much weight is gained from the start. Additionally, pregnant women experiencing incontinence should try and avoid drinking caffeinated or carbonated beverages as much as possible, swapping them out for water or decaffeinated drinks. Avoiding drinking in the evening is also suggested, as it helps reduce the potential for leaking urine during the night.
Kegel exercises are also a prominent treatment plan for women with pregnancy incontinence. A Kegel exercise is meant to help strengthen the pelvic floor through simple movements. Women can squeeze the muscles that support the bladder and pelvic floor for several seconds and then release to perform a Kegel exercise. Doing this in sets of three or five every day helps promote strength over time, potentially reducing incontinence issues.
In some severe cases of incontinence, pelvic mesh implants inserted into the vaginal area to work as a bridge between pelvic muscles. While pelvic mesh implant surgery is common among women, many suggest the procedure is ineffective given the risks it places on women and their quality of life. A representative from the medical negligence firm Patient Claim Line shares that several lawsuits have been brought against the NHS in recent months because the risks associated with pelvic mesh implants were not fully disclosed nor were alternatives presented. Some women experienced tears from the mesh, making simple activities like walking, exercising, or having sex a painful experience.
Given the risks connected to pelvic mesh surgery, most medical professionals steer women facing pregnancy incontinence in the direction of lifestyle changes instead. Working to increase the strength of the pelvic floor without invasive surgical intervention is a far better method to reduce leaking over time, and women have an opportunity to improve their quality of life without experiencing the devastating effects of mesh implants gone wrong.