More than 30 million women live with incontinence issues, thinking it is unavoidable during or after pregnancy. While incontinence is common during these life phases, women with chronic incontinence may be too embarrassed to seek medical attention. But incontinence is a preventable and treatable problem, and no one should feel shame because of it.
There are two basic types of incontinence:
- Stress incontinence occurs when the pelvic floor muscles are weak and do not provide enough support for the bladder. This results in small amounts of leakage when coughing, sneezing, lifting something heavy, or exercising. This is the most common type of incontinence and the easiest to treat.
- With urge incontinence, larger amounts of urine leak at unexpected times, often accompanied by an uncontrollable urge to urinate, as if you cannot get to the bathroom quickly enough.
Every pregnant woman is told to do Kegels, but many do not understand just how important they are. Many times it takes that first, unexpected "leak" to make someone a believer, but by this time, the pelvic floor muscles are already weak, making it difficult to even perform Kegels correctly. This is especially true after pregnancy when the muscles are weakened from labor and possible episiotomy or tearing.
Studies show that more than 30% of women do not contract their pelvic floor muscles correctly. A common method women use to detect these muscles is by trying to stop the flow of urine. However, many women mistakenly contract their thigh, abdominal, or anal muscles, which do not help reduce leakage problems nor target the pelvic floor. Women's health care has come a long way, and physical therapists are now able to treat incontinence issues for those that are not successful with Kegels alone. Some types of urinary incontinence therapy include: electrical stimulation, biofeedback, special equipment cones and weights, timed voiding or bladder training, as well as assistance with weight loss and dietary issues. Medication and surgery are other options, but should be considered as last resort treatments.
If Kegels are practiced early in pregnancy or even prior to pregnancy, they can not only assist with incontinence issues but also help to reduce labor time and strengthen sexual response! The hard part is doing enough of them to make a difference. Here's how:
- Contractions can be done in any position: sitting, standing, or lying.
- Repetitions are important. Aim for 80 to 100 contractions per day to see results. Accomplish this by completing sets of 10, 8-10 times per day.
- A few techniques include:
Contract, hold, and release: Hold 5-10 seconds, then rest 5-10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
Quick flicks: Quickly contract and release 10 times.
Elevators: Imagine a 5-floor elevator tightening a little more at each level until it reaches the top; then release a little at each level until it reaches the bottom.
For additional resources, visit www.DrDonnica.com, a website created by Donnica Moore, M.D., who is best recognized as a previous women's health expert on NBC's "Today" show. Her articles, "Incontinence Myths" and "Do Kegel Exercises Work?" provide additional insight. Also visit the BabyFit Message Boards and Resource Centers to get tips and techniques from experts and women like you.
Please do not let incontinence affect your lifestyle any longer than it has to. Don't be afraid or ashamed to seek medical help if Kegels just aren't cutting it for you. And remember to practice your Kegels regularly-before, during and after pregnancy.