Help! I leak when I laugh: urinary incontinence SOS

Our experts have the lowdown on urinary incontinence and the bladder exercises to do - so you'll be able to LOL without fear
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‘I recently had a baby, and since then I’ve noticed I leak some urine when I laugh or sneeze. What can I do?’
The pharmacist
Scot Taylor, Boots pharmacist, says:

‘Firstly, you’re not alone. Almost half of all women experience urinary incontinence after childbirth. This is usually due to weak pelvic floor muscles – these are muscles that span the bottom of the pelvis, supporting the womb and helping to control the bladder and bowel. The combination of the weight of your baby as it develops inside you and giving birth can weaken them, hence many women develop little urinary leaks when sneezing, laughing or even exercising. There are, however, things you can try to help you regain bladder control – including pelvic floor-strengthening exercises as soon as you can after the birth. Sit comfortably, then squeeze your pelvic floor muscles – as if you’re trying to stop yourself weeing. Try this 10-15 times in a row, three or four times a day. Then practise more slowly: try to hold each contraction for 10 seconds if you can, with rests of four seconds in between. At the same time, practise tightening the muscles around your back passage (as though you’re trying to hold in a number two), as the pelvic floor stretches from the pubic bone to the tailbone at your back. To make sure you’re focusing on the right area, try not to hold your breath or tighten your stomach, buttock or thigh muscles. It’s easy to practise these exercises anywhere – on the bus, in the car, at your desk, in front of the TV. If you do them regularly, you should notice an improvement in several weeks. But don’t stop once you start to see the benefits – keep going to maintain the results. And do see your GP if things don’t improve.’

The obstetrician
Richard Sheridan, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist (and co-founder of The Birth Team*), says:

‘Urinary incontinence is slightly more common in women who’ve had vaginal deliveries rather than caesareans. Don’t be embarrassed to empty your bladder frequently during labour, so that it isn’t bulging while the baby’s head is being pushed out, as this can cause problems in future. And please don’t shy away from visiting your GP about your symptoms – they’ll have seen it all before. As Scot says, pelvic floor exercises are very important, and it’s never too late to start. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help to ease pressure on the area. Plus, staying sexually active can offer a great workout for your pelvic floor muscles. Urinary incontinence is sometimes a symptom of prolapse, when part of the bladder drops into the vagina, which can be caused by childbirth. If you think this might be the case – for example, if you can feel a lump or bulge in the vagina or have a sense of heaviness in the pelvic area – see your GP. They will talk to you about exercise and lifestyle changes, and may prescribe treatments that can help.’

* †For use during pregnancy; please consult a medical professional.