It's a hushed confession I hear routinely from the women I work with: They "leak" a little when they laugh, cough, sneeze, work out or bend down to pick up their children. I tell them that although this is common, it is not normal! The involuntary loss of urine upon exertion of any kind is called stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and can often be caused by pregnancy, childbirth, and even high impact activities such as gymnastics and running. It is not to say that every runner leaks or every woman who has been pregnant is incontinent but the unfortunate reality is that many of them do and they spend hundreds of dollars on pads and panty liners while they suffer in silence. It's embarrassing and hard to talk about but the good news is, there are easy and effective strategies (some of which may surprise you) that can put you back in control of your bladder rather than your bladder controlling you.
See a pelvic floor physiotherapist If you are a woman, especially if you've had children, you should see a pelvic floor physiotherapist and make it part of your annual check up. Physiotherapists who are trained in assessing and treating the pelvic floor are the most underused and unknown women's health resource out there. After only a few sessions you'll see marked improvement or elimination of your leaking.
Stop peeing 'just in case' Chances are if you leak, you pee when you don't have to in an attempt to prevent the leaks – right? But running to the bathroom right before, say, an exercise class sounds logical but it is actually creating a whole other problem. Your pelvic floor is not working as it should and the attempts you are taking to stop the leaks are actually messing up the communication between your brain and your bladder – by peeing before your bladder is full, you are training it to signal the need to empty more, not less, often.
Stay hydrated Another tactic I see women trying is to restrict the amount they drink. Again, it seems logical but by restricting fluids, your urine becomes more concentrated which irritates the bladder and signals it to empty more often and we all know where that leads! Drinking water or herbal tea consistently throughout the day will help keep you hydrated and your bladder less irritated.
Practice good potty posture You were probably told to stand up tall and not slouch as a kid. Did you know that you should also sit up tall and not slouch on the toilet? When you sit down to pee your pelvic floor needs to relax so your bladder can contract and eliminate the stored urine. If you sit in a slouched posture your pelvic floor is short and contracted and therefore not able to relax which disrupts the ability of the bladder to eliminate completely.
Move more, sit less Have you heard? Sitting is the new smoking … it is also the fastest way to pelvic floor dysfunction. We spend A LOT of time sitting these days and then choose the most intense activities possible in hopes of making up for the fact that we sat all day – this is a bad combination! Sitting all day, especially with poor posture, weakens your pelvic floor. When you add intense activity to a weak pelvic floor, something's gotta give – and usually it is leaking first followed by falling organs (a.k.a. pelvic organ prolapse – that is a whole other post). So your best bet is to sit less – opt for a standing work station or take movement breaks several times an hour. Next you want to choose pelvic-floor-friendly exercise like walking. Forget cross fit and boot camp, opt for low impact movement that will help rather than hinder your pelvic floor wellness.
Kim Vopni is known as The Fitness Doula and is an authority on helping women get through birth in one piece. Based in Vancouver, she is a certified pre/postnatal fitness consultant, co-founder of Bellies Inc and owner of Pelvienne Wellness Inc offering innovative products for a better birth and recovery. You can follow her on Twitter at @FitnessDoula