As a women’s and pelvic health Physical Therapist, I’d say I have this conversation about 17,896 times a month:
Me: Do you experience any symptoms of incontinence? Patient: No. Me: Do you ever leak even just a few drops while running, jumping or laughing? Patient: Well, yeah, but that’s normal because I’ve just had a baby. Me: Actually, that is considered incontinence and, though it is common after childbirth, it is not something we should just have to put up with.
Okay, I may be exaggerating just a tiny bit. But the point is that urinary incontinence is a spectrum symptom. On one end of the spectrum, an individual may just dribble a few drops of pee during exercise, when they’ve been ‘holding it’ for too long, or while laughing too much on a girls’ night out. On the other end of the spectrum, an individual may lose the entire contents of their bladder or bowel without ever feeling it happen. Regardless where on the spectrum of incontinence you might be, these symptoms can significantly impact daily life.
One of the most common causes of urinary incontinence is pelvic floor muscle weakness. This is particularly common after pregnancy. Note, I’ve used the word ‘common’ rather than ‘normal’ here, and let me explain why.
There are big misconceptions around what is considered ‘normal’ after pregnancy and delivery. I mean, put your hand up if you’ve heard either your own mum or fellow mum joking about peeing a little when they laugh, cough, sneeze or jump while playing with the kids. Maybe you’ve even made this kind of joke or silently felt self-conscious about dribbling some pee, which has stopped you playing with your kids or exercising with your friends.
The truth is that some urinary incontinence is common after birth. But, no matter what you have experienced or what you’ve heard from friends and family, leaking pee or poo is not normal. And what I mean by that is that these symptoms shouldn’t be something that you just have to get on with. They’re not just part of life.
For too long, by silently accepting or by joking about incontinence, we have let these symptoms become acceptable to us. But it’s time to change these old assumptions and normalise a deeper knowledge of our bodies and the treatment that is available to us. Because women deserve better, especially after bringing new, beautiful life into the world.