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What They Don’t Tell You About Incontinence After Birth…

What They Don’t Tell You About Incontinence After Birth...

Post-natal incontinence. It’s 2017 – so why is nobody talking about an issue that affects approx 50% of women? Here, Sarah, a mum suffering with incontinence, tells it how it is…

I’m not going to lie – this issue has nearly wrecked my life for the past year. The word incontinence musters up images of old ladies in nursing homes, but the truth is that half the female population will suffer with some form of incontinence in their lifetime1!

The other problem is, nobody ‘really’ talks about being incontinent. I just tried to search post-natal incontinence statistics and guess what?

Tumbleweed…

We will never know the true extent of the problem as only one in five women seek help for incontinence issues2.

My internet search for urinary incontinence after birth produced lots of ‘possiblies’, ‘maybes’, ‘for somes’. But nothing that rings true or helps. So here’s what happened to me…

My first birth, aged 30 was a ‘nasty’. It ran the course of three days, there were lots of ‘purple passages’ so to speak – I was cut which took a long time to heal. Eventually I recovered and throughout had no hint of incontinence. Fast forward to my second birth, aged 41, which was not so nasty (though nasty enough!) – I was cut again. But this time I was in trouble from day one.

I hadn’t suffered with incontinence during pregnancy (which is extremely common also) and didn’t notice it at first after giving birth. My first problem was being unable to walk. This went on for about three months. Then, gradually, during that time I noticed that I was peeing myself – a lot! There are two types of urinary incontinence: stress and urge. I thought I had both, but subsequently found out I only had stress. You can suffer from either or both after having your baby. But facing the fact that you have it is only the first hurdle.

Before giving birth I was super fit. So, for me, not being able to contain my bladder was devastating. I couldn’t make it through a supermarket or hold the baby without sitting down let alone make it back to BodyPump. How was I ever going to have a life?

‘Don’t worry’ the internet said. By your six week check everything should be ok. Six week check, nothing wrong with me. Great – then why can’t I skip out of here, drink alcohol or even shout without the inevitable? Well, said the doctor, ‘some women’ take longer.

I remember one evening just crying because I couldn’t imagine ever being able to do things I’d always taken for granted: a high impact class; a run, a country walk with my other half and baby or a visit to a trampoline park with my 12-year-old. When little man was five months I went to a ball; with sleep deprived eyes I got myself dolled up determined to have ‘the best night’, and then left early because my first attempt at the dance floor ended up a wet mess.

Longer became a year longer. By this time, I had been through physio (hello pelvic floor exercises), mobile apps, various gynae departments at the hospital – but no joy.

For most women, incontinence does clear up in the first few weeks after birth but for many we suffer long after baby turns toddler – and we are too embarrassed to talk about it. But we shouldn’t be.

More recently Kim Kardashian and Chrissy Teigen have unveiled the cloak of secrecy surrounding postnatal incontinence by sharing their experience of wearing ‘diapers’ after birth.

Hopefully this will have a positive effect.

If you are experiencing incontinence after birth, Private Pregnancy UK can help you to find a private Clinic or Hospital for Gynecology Care or a Gynaecologist.

There are so many ways to improve your pelvic floor after childbirth: pelvic floor exercises are a must; bladder training; yoga can really help and urology testing is a good idea if you have prolonged issues. I did all of this, but for me there was still no great improvement. As a last resort, there is a medical procedure that involves inserting a strap internally to hold up the bladder – although I wasn’t interested in any more ‘cuts’.

Luckily for me, I researched until I found a hospital that specialises in pelvic floor weakness. My ‘cure’ (let’s say dramatic improvement so far) was far more simple (based on lots of good recent research) and thanks to an amazing young physio:

Did you know that tightening your pelvic floor is NOT an involuntary action? This might sound obvious, but once you’ve spent 40 years not peeing your pants, it can be hard to believe. Breathing, sneezing and digesting are all involuntary but stopping yourself peeing is not – it’s something we learn to control as we are growing out of nappies. Because of this, all the pelvic floor exercises in the world weren’t solving the fact that I’d forgotten to pull my pelvic floor up every time I stood, coughed, sneezed, lifted something heavy, or walked down a hill.

Those weeks of not being able to walk had taken a toll on my brain. Literally I’d forgotten how to stop myself peeing.

Bingo – change of mind-set! There’s a lot of research and clinical trials taking place to ensure that women will being getting this information in the future but there’s nothing stopping anyone giving it a go3. It makes perfect sense really. If you’ve forgotten how to do something, you need to consciously re-learn it.

Incontinence after birth is really a lot more common than we let on. Happily, it’s temporary for most. Unfortunately, when it persists it becomes as much a mental issue as a physical one. For these reasons it’s so important to get seen, get advice, help and treatment. Incontinence isn’t something that happens as we age or something that should go unchecked. There are things you can do to overcome this debilitating condition. The effect on your quality of life is too high a price to pay to suffer in silence.

REFERENCES

 [1] https://www.allaboutincontinence.co.uk/incontinence-statistics
 [2] https://www.allaboutincontinence.co.uk/urinary-incontinence
 [3] https://trialsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13063-015-1051-0

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