Bladder leakage or urinary incontinence is a lot more common than you think. Even if you’re young, fit, and child-free, you can still experience small or large leaks when you run, jump, cough, or sneeze. This is officially known as involuntary loss of bladder control, which sounds way more serious than it actually is. It’s high time we “normalize” the fact that many of us pee our panties every now and then.
While one in three women over the age of 18 experiences bladder leaks every day, this fact is shrouded with shame. In the same way that, until recently, we were afraid to share our menstrual experiences we can now veto the embarrassment around this super common issue. The first step is to quash the myths around women who experience urinary incontinence.
Banishing Myths About Bladder Leakage
Loss of bladder control increases with age, but it’s not restricted to menopausal women. Estrogen helps to keep the pelvic floor strong, supple, and stretchy, which supports bladder function, but estrogen levels can drop at any time and any age. Hormones fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle and also in response to our lifestyles.
Pregnancy and childbirth impact the structure of your pelvic floor muscles, but strenuous exercise and weight gain can do the same. If you’re carrying a little extra weight or you regularly enjoy a run, you may actually be putting excess pressure on your bladder.
What Actually Causes Loss of Bladder Control?
It mostly comes down to your pelvic floor and how responsive it is. This is a layer of muscles that literally spans the bottom of your pelvis, supporting your uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum. These muscles also connect to your core and help you to maintain good posture.
If you’re putting extra pressure on this pelvic support system—through exercise or weight gain—these muscles may weaken. So if you’re experiencing reduced bladder control, it’s a good indication that your pelvic floor needs some love.
What Is Stress Incontinence?
Stress incontinence happens as your bladder fills up and bears down on your urethra—the tube that passes urine out of your body. When this pressure exceeds the strength of the urethra, it struggles to stay closed. Add on the extra stress of your morning jog, a belly laugh, or a sneeze, and the urine sneaks out.
What Is Urge Incontinence?
Urge incontinence is sometimes unavoidable when you’re desperate to pee but can’t quite reach the toilet in time. The muscles in the bladder wall relax as it fills up with urine then contract to squeeze it all out. Sometimes these muscles contract too often if the bladder is overactive.
If this keeps happening to you, try cutting back on alcohol and caffeine for a while and see if it makes a difference. Alternatively, you may need to up your water intake since concentrated urine can irritate the bladder and cause it to be overactive. If nothing changes after you’ve tried any of the above, check in with your doctor to rule out a urinary tract infection.
How Do I Strengthen My Pelvic Floor Muscles?
There are many products on the market designed to help you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Before you rush to buy them all, check in with the rest of your body—and your doctor. If you’re experiencing pain around your lower back, lower abdomen, vagina, or rectum, you may need to contact a pelvic floor physical therapist to see what else is going on.
How Do I Relax My Pelvic Floor Muscles?
If your bladder is overactive, or you’re having trouble emptying it, a super tense pelvic floor could be the culprit. Your pelvic floor muscles are probably working too hard and need some time out.
Try some deep belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, to help you let go. Encouraging these muscles to relax actually helps them to function at their best—you rest your pelvic floor so it comes back stronger in the same way you let your other muscles recover from a big gym session.
When It’s More Than Just a Leak
If your loss of bladder control is impacting your quality of life, it’s a good idea to seek some professional advice. If the need to rush to the toilet is causing you to avoid social or physical activity, you could have an underlying condition that needs attention. Remember this is much more common than we’ve been led to believe so don’t hesitate to reach out for help. It may take time for a doctor or physical floor therapist to help remedy your bladder leaks so in the meantime, find a liner or pad that fits your lifestyle.
Featured image by Richard Rivas
Looking for ways to manage urinary incontinence? Cora’s Bladder Liners were designed by women in the know, and made to eliminate the anxiety and fear that goes along with experiencing light bladder leaks.