Updated 29 January 2018

Retrain your bladder to 'hold it in'

Just about wetting your pants when you rush to the loo? You can train your bladder to hold it in a little longer.

If you have urinary incontinence, retraining your bladder and learning to suppress the "urge to go" could help you manage the problem.

Bladder training can be a very effective way to treat urinary incontinence.

The purpose of the exercise is to increase the intervals between going to the bathroom to void your bladder, mainly by training your bladder to hold more fluid before it feels the need to urinate. This can also reduce the incidence of small "accidents" and the feeling of urgency. 

You start off by training your bladder to void according to a schedule. In the beginning it might feel strange to "go" when you don't need to and putting off a trip to the bathroom if you feel the urge before it is "time" to go. In case of the latter there are suppression techniques you can use, e.g. Kegel exercises and relaxation.

What is urge suppression?

This helps you to control the sudden urge to urinate, which means you are no longer so desperate to get to the toilet. Hurrying to the bathroom is bad because it may further irritate your bladder and take your concentration away from controlling your bladder.

Use the "urge suppression" technique to help control your bladder:

  1. Come to an immediate standstill and sit down if you can. This makes it easier to concentrate on controlling your bladder.  Stop all movement immediately and stand still. Sit down if possible. Remaining still increases your ability to stay in control.
  2. Quickly and tightly squeeze your pelvic floor muscles a number of times. Make the squeezes very quick and don't entirely relax your muscles between squeezes. This causes the bladder to relax, which immediately puts you in control of the situation. 
  3. Breathe deeply and relax. Pull up your shoulders and let them drop and feel the tension drain out of your entire body.
  4. Concentrate on suppressing the urge. Distracting yourself from the feeling of urgency can also be effective.
  5. Once the feeling of urgency has subsided, take a slow, calm walk to the bathroom. If the urge returns, go through the steps again. When the strong urgency subsides, walk slowly and calmly to the bathroom. If the urge begins to build again, repeat the above steps. Contracting your muscles while you walk to the bathroom may also help.

Never panic – going to the bathroom doesn't have to be an emergency!

Source: Women's Continence Centre, University of California San Fransisco. 

Read more:

Understanding urge incontinence

Botox injections may treat urge incontinence

6 everyday things to avoid if you have urge incontinence


Ask the Expert

Incontinence Expert

Dr 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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