Urinary incontinence affects women of all ages—not just older women.
Even if you haven’t had a baby and are begging for your bladder control back or don’t leak a little when you sneeze, you may have to deal with urinary incontinence one day. Want to try to prevent it?
According to Charles Ascher-Walsh, M.D., director of gynecology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, there’s actually not much you can do to avoid having urinary incontinence at some point in your life.
“There is not much one can do to prevent this,” he said. Of course, if you don’t have kids or choose a cesarean section, that help (though both come with risks as well). Even if you avoid having children or vaginal birth all together, that doesn’t eliminate the risk of developing stress incontinence, he said.
Still, there are a few things you can try in order to prevent it from happening, or lessen symptoms:
Learn about it.
Stress incontinence can happen if you sneeze, laugh or exercise. It’s different from urinary incontinence that happens from prolapse. Typically women who have had kids, and older women, experience prolapse (that occurs when your bladder loses natural support, starts bulging and heads south to your vagina.)
“One should avoid things that lead to repetitive increases in abdominal pressure,” Ascher-Walsh said. He had a patient who worked for the electricity company in New York lifting manhole covers all day. She developed prolapse and incontinence, he noted. “Weight lifters are at increased risk as are runners. Anything that placed constant increased pressure on the pelvis can do it,” he said.
Linda Brubaker, M.D., a urogynecologist at the University of California San Diego, said women should adopt healthy fluid intake habits. “Be a sipper not a guzzler,” she said. Make sure to empty your bladder at reasonable intervals. “Don’t hold it too long or go every time you see a toilet,” she said. “For most women, urine should be pale yellow—not so clear like water—that is usually a sign that you are drinking more than your body needs.”
Sure, squeezing your pelvic floor can help to strengthen the muscles down there, but Rachel Gelman, DPT, clinic director at the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco, said that many women aren’t doing them right.
“Kegels are great, but many people forget to fully relax afterward. The pelvic floor is just like any other muscle and needs to be able to rest in a neutral state in order to function efficiently,” she explained. “You wouldn’t walk around all day with your arm in a bicep curl in order to strengthen your arm. Most people don’t need to be doing kegels or they are doing them incorrectly. If you really want to do them to try to prevent incontinence, make sure you relax after each squeeze.”
“Sometimes relaxing in child’s pose helps facilitate this relaxation,” she added.
Go to the bathroom.
Funny thing about your bladder is that it’s in a tight relationship with your brain. Certain behaviors can impact that relationship. “If someone has a tendency to always use the restroom just in case, it will train the bladder to need to urinate more often than necessary and this can lead to increased urgency which can lead to urge urinary incontinence,” she said. “Unless you know you have to go, let your bladder do it’s job and hold urine until it tells you it’s ready.”
In related news, having relaxed and regular bowel movements can prevent incontinence, Gelman said. “Pushing and straining with bowel movements can put a lot of strain on the pelvic floor muscles. If the pelvic floor muscles become dysfunctional it can lead to many things including incontinence,” Gelman added. “Chronic constipation can always contribute to someone developing a pelvic organ prolapse which can also cause incontinence. That’s why she recommends staying hydrated, eating a high-fiber diet and using a step stool or the squatty potty when having a bowel movement.
Advocate for more studies.
Brubaker said there are not too many studies yet on preventing urinary incontinence and prolapse. The National Institutes of Health has a large Research Consortium that is studying this topic—the PLUS [Prevention of Lower Urinary tract Symptoms] Research Consortium is working on this and plans a large study in the near future.