Updated 09 June 2015

Is your pregnancy causing bladder incontinence?

A study has shown that childbirth increases the risk of bladder incontinence in women.


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.

Read: 4 types of urinary incontinence

In fact, a 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, we take a look at the role of pelvic floor exercise in pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.

Childbirth and bladder weakness

The difference between the two forms of childbirth (natural vs. C-section) is because of the child’s head going through the birth canal. But experts warn this is not a 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.

They still prefer women to go for a vaginal delivery 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.

Can women prevent incontinence?

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.

Read: Dealing with incontinence

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.

How to do pelvic floor exercises

To start with, a woman should lie on her back or side with her knees bent. She should clench the sphincter around her anus, then clench forwards and upwards around the vagina and the opening of the urethra. It should be thought of as doing up a ‘zip’ up, starting from the back and clenching all the way forward to the clitoris.

Several gentle clenches, ideally 20, should be done one after the other, and do it should be repeated daily.

There are also purpose-designed incontinence products for women struggling with urine leakage. 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.

Get your free sample of the products TENA has to offer. For more information or advice, please call TENA on 0860 673 377 or visit their website. You can also purchase products online.


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Incontinence Expert

Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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