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Urinary and Bowel Problems After Pregnancy: You're Not Alone

October 22, 2021

Although many women are eager to share the milestones that come with new motherhood, there are some things they might be embarrassed to bring up — like the urinary and bowel problems that can happen after giving birth. 

These conditions are common. Researchers estimate that between 5 and 25 percent of women have bowel issues after pregnancy, and a significantly higher number experience urinary incontinence after having a baby. 

But it can be hard for women to talk about symptoms like leakage, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), even with their healthcare providers. 

Understanding why these problems occur, and what can be done to treat them, may help women who are dealing with these conditions feel less alone. 

Why Do Urinary and Bowel Problems Happen After Pregnancy? 

Pregnancy and vaginal childbirth can stretch and strain the group of muscles and ligaments in your pelvis known as the pelvic floor. When the pelvic floor isn’t as strong as it should be, it affects the normal function of the pelvic organs, including the bladder, vagina and rectum. 

The most common urinary and bowel problems that happen after pregnancy are: 

●       Urinary incontinence, or leaking of urine that you can’t control 

●       Urinary urgency, or a sudden need to urinate 

●       Fecal incontinence, or accidental bowel leakage of stool 

●       Constipation, or difficulty moving the bowels 

●       Bowel urgency, or a sudden need for a bowel movement 

●       Pelvic organ prolapse, or the dropping of the pelvic organs caused by loss of support in the pelvic floor muscle group 

For some women, these problems will go away within a few months after giving birth. For others, symptoms may persist or get worse over time. 

The Right Treatment Can Help 

There are many options for treating urinary and bowel problems after pregnancy. Some involve simple lifestyle changes, like altering your diet or fluid intake; others may involve pelvic floor physical therapy, medication or surgical intervention. 

Ways you may be able to reduce urinary problems after pregnancy include: 

●       Doing Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. If at-home Kegel exercises aren’t enough, talk to your doctor about pelvic floor physical therapy. 

●       Switching to caffeine-free and/or non-carbonated beverages. 

●       Maintaining a healthy body weight to avoid putting excess pressure on the bladder. 

To help reduce bowel problems after pregnancy: 

●       Avoid spicy, greasy foods and dairy products (especially if you’re lactose intolerant). 

●       Cut back on caffeinated beverages. 

●       Eliminate products containing artificial sweeteners (like diet soda or sugar-free gum). 

●       Eat high-fiber foods (for constipation). 

●       Have physical therapy to regain muscle control. 

If you experience pelvic organ prolapse after pregnancy:

  • Opt for pelvic floor physical therapy.

  • Seek urogynecologic care for a pessary fitting. A pessary is a device inserted into the vagina to support the uterus. 

If problems persist or worsen, a urogynecologist can discuss options for minimally invasive surgery. 

A Doctor’s Care Can Make a Difference

As hard as it can be to talk about urinary or bowel problems, it’s important that you bring up any symptoms you’re experiencing with your primary care physician or OB-GYN. Together, you can decide which treatment options are best for your unique needs and when to seek a referral to a urogynecologist. 

You don’t have to resign yourself to a lifetime of leaking when you sneeze, and you’re not alone in experiencing urinary or bowel problems after pregnancy. Don’t be afraid to speak up and seek care and treatment.

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