Many pregnant women will find themselves needing to urinate more frequently but incontinence is also a common symptom that many women experience during and after pregnancy. This is not just inconvenient; it can also have a huge negative impact on your quality of life. In fact, 54% of pregnant women believe that incontinence during pregnancy has an adverse effect on their daily lives, whether it is taking an emotional or physical toll.
There are a range of types of urinary incontinence that can affect women during pregnancy which can have different causes and symptoms. Stress incontinence can be caused due to physical pressure on the bladder whilst bladder contractions can cause an immediate need to urinate, known as urgency incontinence. Mixed incontinence is typically a combination of the above types. An additional variation, known as transient incontinence, is caused by medication or a temporary condition, such as an infection.
Before you can begin treating incontinence during pregnancy it is vital to first know the causes. The pelvic floor supports your bladder but comes under strain during pregnancy and childbirth which can lead to incontinence. For example, physical movements such as laughing or sneezing may place additional pressure on your bladder which is a cause of stress incontinence. Similarly, a baby’s growth will also add pressure onto the bladder. Ever-changing hormones during pregnancy can also play a part as they can affect the lining of your bladder and urethra which can result in the development of the condition.
Research shows that those suffering from certain medical conditions may be more susceptible to developing incontinence. Pregnant women who have diabetes or multiple sclerosis, or are currently taking medication for anxiety, are likely to be more prone to incontinence. Also, women who have suffered from a stroke in the past may be more at risk.
One of the main causes of incontinence can be urinary tract infections. It is estimated that around 30-40% of women whose infections were not fully treated will see symptoms reoccur during pregnancy. Incontinence is a common symptom of these infections and can develop if they are not effectively treated.
Women who already suffer from incontinence are likely to see these symptoms worsen during pregnancy. There are other factors which can increase the chances of suffering from incontinence including smoking, which can lead to chronic coughing and increase pressure on your bladder. The likelihood of developing these symptoms also increases with age and if you have previously undergone pelvic surgery or have given birth.
There are several ways to treat and manage pregnancy incontinence, from minimal lifestyle changes to surgery.
The first stage of treatment for pregnant women should always be changes to your lifestyle, such as avoiding caffeine and carbonated drinks. These will often increase urination whereas increasing the amount of water you drink can have the opposite effect. Increasing your water intake also reduces the risk of developing urinary tract infections. Pregnant women should also try to avoid drinking late at night to avoid incontinence interrupting their sleep.
Constipation can put added strain on your pelvic floor, which in turn can lead to incontinence. Pregnant women should ensure that they maintain a high-fiber diet to avoid constipation. Managing your weight during and after pregnancy can also help to relieve incontinence as weight gain increases pressure on your bladder.
Noting down when you suffer from incontinence can also help you plan your trips to the bathroom. There are also exercises that can strengthen your pelvic floor which can reduce incontinence as well as assisting during labor.
Medication and surgery can also be used to combat incontinence but this should be discussed with your doctor. In many cases, these options are only advised after you have given birth and the symptoms have not cleared.
In the most severe cases, surgery to insert a pelvic mesh can be offered. This mesh provides additional support in the pelvic area and can help to relieve the symptoms of incontinence. However, an expert at medical negligence specialists Fletchers Solicitors explains that this surgery is not without issue and there have been a high number of lawsuits filed as a result. Reports claim that up to one in 15 women experienced complications after the procedure and required further surgery to have it removed. In fact, over 800 women are suing the NHS over the use of pelvic mesh, claiming it has led to permanent pain and they are unable to walk, work or have sex.