Have you ever heard of stress incontinence?
Even if you aren’t familiar with the term “stress incontinence,” I’m sure that you are familiar with the symptoms. Do you know any moms who won’t jump on a trampoline for fear of leaking a little pee? Have you ever leaked a little while coughing or sneezing? That, my friends, is stress incontinence. Delivering babies puts mothers at a higher risk for developing this condition. It’s incredibly common.
Just because stress incontinence is common doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate it.
Like many women, I figured that leaking a little pee during exercise was just the price I had to pay to have children. It’s embarrassing to talk about these symptoms, so I never brought them up with my doctor. When I finally got over my embarrassment and talked to my doctor, she told me that stress incontinence is actually quite treatable. She referred me to a physical therapy office that specializes in treating problems with pelvic floor muscles. Weakness in these muscles after childbirth is what allows urine to leak out of the bladder at inopportune moments.
I was nervous about what to expect at my physical therapy appointment.
The last thing I ever wanted to do was consult with multiple medical care providers about something my five year-old has managed to avoid: peeing my pants. Luckily though, the first part of the appointment was talking. The physical therapist asked me a lot of questions about my symptoms so she could figure out how extensive they are. Also, we went over a lot of lifestyle questions. I learned that alcohol and caffeine consumption can aggravate stress incontinence.
The physical therapist showed me a model of the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are shaped like a figure-eight. College anatomy class was a long time ago, so I had forgotten that fact! Childbirth often weakens pelvic floor muscles, which leads to bladder leakage during times of stress, such as exercising, sneezing, or coughing. I already knew about Kegel exercises, but it turns out that a lot of women do them incorrectly. (Including me!) It turns out that I had been focusing just on the front part of the pelvic floor muscles, but had neglected all the other parts.
Next, comes a pelvic exam. I found it awkward, but at least it was over quickly.
In truth, the pelvic exam isn’t any worse than the exam at yearly gynecologist appointments. It’s much easier than anything related to childbirth! The physical therapist performs a pelvic exam to determine exactly what is happening with the pelvic floor muscles. This exam will expose any weakness or other issues. In my case, my pelvic floor muscles were indeed weak, probably as a result of childbirth.
The pelvic exam is necessary to give each patient an individualized treatment plan. Basically, what works for one person won’t work for the next. Pinpointing the exact issue will allow the physical therapist to treat the patient successfully. There are several different treatment options. There are behavioral changes, pelvic floor muscle training, medicines, and even surgeries. Not surprisingly, the amount of time required to treat stress incontinence varies widely. Fortunately, my case is fairly simple, so I should only require behavioral changes and pelvic floor muscle training over four weekly appointments.
I received homework from my physical therapist.
After teaching me the proper way to perform Kegel exercises, my therapist instructed me to perform them once or twice a day for a few minutes. They’re not difficult to do, but I often have a hard time remembering to actually take the time to perform Kegel exercises. Luckily, I am more motivated this time around because I have to report back to my physical therapist. I have also been using Kegel exercises as an excuse to lay down on the couch with a book.
My other task is to stop peeing so frequently. I’m always afraid that my bladder will leak unexpectedly, so I tend to use the restroom often “just in case.” Apparently, this is quite common with stress incontinence. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work because your bladder never actually completely empties out. Also, it trains your bladder to need to urinate more frequently. Not good. Spreading out your water consumption throughout the day can help with this problem.
If you suffer from stress incontinence, I urge you to seek treatment.
I waited to address my stress incontinence for five years after my youngest child was born. It’s quite common for women to wait five or six years to seek treatment. I assumed that my problem was something I would have to live with, but I was delighted to find out that it’s actually very treatable. I will write another post after I finish my treatment to let you know the results!