Health and wellbeing blogs

Stopping the leaks

The birth of a new baby is a wonderful life event, but there are many challenges ahead if you are a new mother, including sleepless nights, breastfeeding difficulties, losing the extra ‘baby weight’ and the possibility of developing stress urinary incontinence. Women's Health Physiotherapist Taryn Watson explains how exercise can help reduce your risk of developing incontinence.

What is stress urinary incontinence? 

Stress urinary incontinence is the leaking of urine with coughing, sneezing or other exertion.

High impact exercise, constipation and heavy lifting can increase the risk of developing this type of incontinence.

Women who deliver their baby by caesarean sections are also at risk, as pregnancy is a risk factor regardless of the mode of delivery.

About one third of women will experience stress urinary incontinence after having a baby but the good news is that it can be treated with correct pelvic floor muscle exercises and by following lifestyle advice.

St John of God Health Care Womens Health

How to reduce your risk with exercise?

A recent study proved effective for 84 per cent of women with mild to moderate stress urinary incontinence who received pelvic floor muscle training and lifestyle advice with a qualified physiotherapist.

Researchers also found the recovery rate was approximately 80 per cent after one year, which is comparable to, or even better than, the ‘cure’ rate reported with surgery.

Therefore pelvic floor muscle exercises should be done regularly during pregnancy and after childbirth.

It is imperative to do these exercises correctly, as incorrect muscle activation may be detrimental.

What else can new mothers do to reduce their risk?

New mothers should avoid constipation by maintaining a healthy fibre and fluid intake (two and a half to three litres per day if breastfeeding, otherwise one and a half, to two litres per day), and treat coughs and colds early.

In the early weeks after giving birth, while your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are recovering, it is advised that you avoid exercises involving high impact and heavy lifting. 

It is highly recommended to have a postnatal check up with a specialist physiotherapist, just as you do with your obstetrician, at about six to eight weeks postpartum, and they can determine your readiness for these activities.

You do not need a referral to see a women’s health physiotherapist. When you make an appointment, let the clinic know your appointment is for incontinence or pelvic floor muscle training, to ensure you see an appropriate practitioner.

Even if you have a referral to see a specialist doctor, getting on the right track with a physiotherapy program while you await your appointment can be invaluable to your long-term recovery.

Taryn Watson Women's Health and Continence Physiotherapist

About the Author

Taryn Watson is a women's health and continence physiotherapist at Southcare Physiotherapy at St John of God Murdoch Hospital. Taryn loves assisting women through the childbearing years, and is experienced in treating men and women with pelvic floor dysfunction. She finds it a very rewarding area of physiotherapy. Her real passion is providing pelvic floor friendly exercise options for women.