Updated: Feb 7
Have you ever asked yourself this question? Perhaps you’ve whispered it to yourself with chagrin as you felt that warm trickle down your leg. Many moms are secretly wondering about leakage, but most are too embarrassed to say it aloud. At the same time, they dismiss the leakage as a common malady. “It’s a normal part of childbirth,” moms say to themselves.
If this is your experience, there is hope! Although it may be typical to leak immediately after childbirth, it doesn’t have to become a normal part of life. Understanding your body is key. When you know your body, how it functions, and why leakage occurs, you will learn to listen to your body’s needs and live free.
What is Urinary Leakage?
The technical term for leakage is urinary incontinence, any kind of involuntary leakage that happens when you don’t want it to.
There are several types of leakage you may be experiencing.
Stress incontinence occurs when you’re lifting, bending, and twisting. The physical pressure inside your core can overwhelm the pelvic floor muscles and the bladder, causing leakage. Energetic jumping, allergies, or coughing can cause so much pressure that your pelvic floor can’t hold the bladder’s urethra closed.
Urge incontinence is leakage which is accompanied by a sudden urge to pee. Normally, when your brain signals a need to use the bathroom, your pelvic floor muscles tense to keep the pee in and support you while you walk to the bathroom. Urge incontinence happens when your brain’s signals get mixed up on the way. As soon as you feel the urge to pee, the bladder relaxes, causing leakage. Stress is a huge factor that mixes the messages between your brain, your bladder, and your pelvic floor.
Mixed incontinence Mixed incontinence is a collective term for experiencing both types of incontinence.
Pelvic Floor Physical Therapists, like myself, specialize in how to help you use strategies to eliminate leakage. (Find out What is Pelvic Therapy?)
What causes leakage?
Doctors often dismiss leakage as a normal part of childbirth, but prolonged issues with leakage (over three months) can point to something else. Perhaps the body isn’t healing as it should, and it needs some support. Long-term leakage could point to a prolapse, bladder retention issues, or a need for collagen or estrogen support.
Let’s break it down and discuss some other factors which can causes leakage:
Estrogen Leakage is common in childbearing years, and it often peaks again at menopause. In both pregnancy and menopause, estrogen levels change. Lowered estrogen changes the ability of the pelvic floor muscles to contract and relax efficiently.
Pregnancy body mechanics During 9 months of pregnancy, your posture changes and so does the ability for your core to support the pelvic organs including the bladder. During childbirth, the pelvic muscles can stretch the musculature of the belly and pelvic floor which control urinary function. Prolonged pushing and birth positions can put additional stress on the muscles that support the bladder.
Genetics Our inherited genes can create more flexible collagen which provides less support for the bladder, ultimately making it more vulnerable to the intra-abdominal pressure inside the body.
Athletics Sports can cause leakage because of the pressure on the bladder. Jumping, running, flips, jumps, and gymnastics can cause incontinence. One in three student athletes leak during their sport between the age of 18 and 22, even without having a baby!
Bladder struggles Pelvic floor sphincters act like a tight fist around the muscles of the urethra. The urethra is the straw-like opening of the bladder which allows us to urinate. The pelvic muscles tense to close the urethra, like pinching the end of a full water balloon. The sphincter muscles keep the urethra closed so we don’t leak, but sometimes these muscles can be weak or lack coordination to squeeze before we sneeze.
There are many factors which can cause leakage, so get it checked out. Even mild leakage is an important sign that the body needs support. No matter what specific muscles or organs are suffering, leakage means the bladder and pelvic muscles are asking for help.
Postpartum Bladder Health
Although you may feel like you are the only one who experiences leakage, many women around the world have faced the same obstacle. About one in three women will experience urinary incontinence at some point between the ages of 15 years old to 65. Every woman should feel comfortable talking to a doctor or physical therapist about this common problem.
If you are struggling with urinary incontinence, don’t be afraid to seek help and connect with us personally. Interested in learning more about your post-partum body? Check out my “Is this Normal? -Post Partum Workshop.”
In the South Jersey area and want one on one care with Dr. Amanda? Schedule an appointment for your complimentary 15 min phone call to see how pelvic therapy can help you!
Dr. Amanda Heritage, PT, DPT is the owner of Breathe Life Physical Therapy & Wellness, LLC located in Collingswood, NJ. She has been practicing physical therapy for 9 years with a strong focus on pelvic health. She enjoys encouraging women and men about pelvic therapy as a treatment option for those suffering with pelvic pain, incontinence or constipation.