It’s a common little secret that women all over the world are living with under the assumption that it is a normal part of aging, especially if you have had kids. Can you guess what that secret is?? Urinary Incontinence (UI), ladies. There, I said it. With all do respect to your mothers and grandmothers, it is NOT normal to leak or dribble when you laugh or sneeze, whether you have had no kids or 6 kids. And while I do appreciate some of Hollywood’s familiar faces bringing this usually hush-hush subject into the light and letting us know we aren’t alone, by no means is wearing pee proof panties or the newest line of fancy pads the only or best way to handle this delicate matter.
Let’s be clear. There are several different types of UI and not all can be treated in the same manner. But for the mamas that sit on the sideline at the trampoline because you wouldn’t dare, or the women that have the dainty knee cross when you feel a sneeze coming on or that have to excuse yourself in the middle of an all out hardcore laugh session with your girlfriends…listen up. There is help beyond those pee proof undies.
This type of UI is called stress urinary incontinence (SUI) or stress incontinence. That means that when pressure increases in the belly or pelvis (from things like exercise, laughing, coughing, sneezing) that pee leaks out. Embarrassing? Sure. Normal? No. Your body is giving a clue to the fact that something is just not working right. Maybe the muscles around the bladder are weak, maybe you had a difficult vaginal birth and the tissues have not healed right. Maybe you are constipated and the pressure from the full colon is causing some of the issue. There are many reasons why it might be happening. But let’s talk about what you might do about it.
pelvic floor training 101
Let’s start with the basics first. You gotta breathe right. If you are a breath holder or constantly a chest breather, then your pelvic floor muscles never rally have the opportunity to move and act as they are supposed to act. This can set you up for episodes of urinary incontinence. For more details on better breathing, click here. Poor breath control and coordination are often implicated in leaking during exercise. So being able to learn how to control your breath both at rest and during activity is super important. Think “exhale on effort” as a little tidbit for how and when to breathe during exercises to reduce the risk of unwanted leaking.
Secondly, deal with constipation. If you have so much pressure in the belly from hard stool just sitting there, what do you think that does to your bladder? And if you are frequently having to strain and push to have a bowel movement, that isn’t healthy for your pelvic floor and bladder either. Managing constipation may mean looking at medications that are causing it as a side effect, as that is a hidden cause in many cases. But the most common reason for adult constipation is a poor diet and not enough water or activity. Increasing fiber by upping vegetable and fruit servings first and grains if you can eat them, as well as making a point to drink plenty of water is a great way to keep your system moving right along. Taking a walk or doing certain yoga moves can help to promote a more healthy digestive process. I cannot stress to you this significant impact water and movement have on managing constipation. Being purposeful of drinking at least 3 full water bottles daily and getting some type of exercise in every day has been crucial in my own battle with this.
Lastly, do you know how to exercise the muscles around the bladder that help to prevent leaking? Knowing how to perform a kegel properly is important. Sit in a relaxed posture on a firm surface. Now visualize the area just between the vagina and the anus. While gently breathing out, lift that area up into the body. It should feel a little like you are trying to stop in the middle of going pee. I kind of picture a little women inside pulling up on a string attached to the pelvic floor, like drawing up a bucket from a well. If you are squeezing your thighs or feel your bottom muscles squeezing, then try again. Kegels are an important way of exercising the pelvic floor muscles.
Practice doing quick squeezes. Tighten and then immediately relax 5 times in a row.
Practice doing longer holds. Can you hold for 5 seconds without feeling the muscle give way? How about 10 seconds? Breathe throughout the hold.
Practice in all kinds of positions and with all kinds of activities. We don’t live sitting down, so we can’t just do this exercise while sitting down. Standing, laying, bending over, climbing stairs, picking up kids, pushing the grocery cart, jumping rope.
While these ideas are just the basics in managing SUI, I hope that it helps give inspiration to do more for yourself than accept the status quo of “leaking is a normal part of being a mom and getting older.”