How to Manage Urinary Incontinence
Call it what you will—urinary incontinence, light bladder leaks, overactive bladder, dribbles, squirts, or spurts—but peeing your pants isn’t fun. The thing is—it’s not uncommon either. In fact, one in three (!) women experience some level of urinary incontinence (UI) throughout their lives, brought on by pregnancy, childbirth, hormones, pelvic floor trauma, weight gain, aging, or some other pelvic health issue. And while much has been done to destigmatize our periods, we’ve still got a lot of work to do when it comes to our pelvic health, which is why I started Juno to make it easier for women to manage their UI.
So if you’re living with UI—then what? Here are a few steps to take to manage it, so that you can continue living your best life without a little leaking getting in the way.
Talk to your doctor
It may seem obvious—but for many women, this can also seem like the scariest step. After all, talking about it means admitting that there’s a problem, and an embarrassing one at that. But believe us when we say that your OB-GYN won’t judge, and she’ll likely be able to connect you with the resources you need, from a pelvic floor physical therapist to a urogynecologist. You might find that pads and Kegels are your best bet, but maybe you’d benefit from pelvic floor PT. Remember: UI isn’t just something you have to live with. Treatment options are out there, and can really help.
Strengthen your pelvic floor
Stress UI (the most common kind) is caused by weakened pelvic floor muscles, which just means they can’t do their job of clamping down around the urethra till it’s time to pee. These muscles can weaken for a number of reasons—including pregnancy and childbirth, when they bear a lot of pressure—but like all muscles, they can be exercised to build them back up. Kegel exercises are the old standby, but there are a number of other exercises you can do for a few minutes a day that will get your pelvic floor back in fighting form. Here’s a brief explainer of good pelvic floor exercises and how to do them. (And if Kegels aren’t helping, it could be that your pelvic floor is actually too tight, something a pelvic floor PT can help unwind.)
Quit your vices
Bladders tend not to be buds with alcohol, coffee, soda and other fizzy drinks, or cigarettes. Alcohol and coffee are diuretics that will only increase the urge and make you pee more often; carbonation irritates the bladder, exacerbating the symptoms of UI; and smoking makes you cough, which puts unnecessary stress on the bladder, leading to more leaks. If you can let them go, it might help your bladder hang tight.
Train your bladder
Although UI is largely physical, it’s possible to put mind over matter (or mind over bladder) in some instances and retrain your bladder. This is particularly useful if you’ve got the type of leakage called urge UI, where you find yourself with overwhelming urges to get to the bathroom even when your bladder’s not full. Keeping a bladder diary, resisting the urge for a few seconds, and prolonging the time between trips to the bathroom can work wonders.
Find the right products that work for you
UI management has come a long way from the days of “adult diapers.” Now, stores are stocked with UI-specific pads and liners in all sorts of sizes and absorbencies. You can also find UI liners, cloth pads, tampon-like bladder supports, absorbent and washable underwear (that actually looks cute), and electronic gadgets to help you do Kegels. It’s a whole, wide world out there, and you’re bound to find a product that does exactly what you want it to.
For more information on UI—including its causes, management options, or products—and first-person essays from women who experience it, visit Juno.