What Happens to your Bladder During Pregnancy?
From the first trimester, urinary frequency and urgency are common symptoms due to an increase in pregnancy hormones.
You might feel that you’re rushing to the toilet a lot more than normal. The urges you’re getting are much stronger and you might find it difficult to hold on when you need to go. You may even find that you’re waking up to empty your bladder at night time more than you did pre-pregnancy.
Urinary Tract Infections
It is also important to be aware that urinary tract infections are common during pregnancy. Symptoms of UTIs can include urinary urgency and frequency, but seeing as these are also common symptoms of pregnancy, your doctor or healthcare provider will regularly test your urine for signs of infection.
By the end of pregnancy, your bladder capacity doubles due to changes in the muscle of the bladder wall. But… many women will now find that they experience stress urinary incontinence at this stage of pregnancy. This is due to the increased size of your bump, which increases abdominal pressure. The pelvic floor muscles struggle to counteract this pressure when you laugh, cough, sneeze etc.
What can you do to help?
- Avoid irritants: Avoid foods and drinks that can irritate the bladder and cause more urgency and frequency (caffeine-tea, coffee, even chocolate, fizzy drinks, spicy food and tomatoes are some of the more common ones)
- Fluid Intake: Ensure that you are drinking adequate water (aim for about 1.5L daily but increase this gradually if you have not been doing it up to now)
- Pelvic Floor Exercises: You have heard it before but there is lots of evidence to show that doing pelvic floor exercises 3 times daily during pregnancy will reduce your risk of urinary incontinence and other pelvic floor problems in the postnatal period. Aim to build up to 10 second holds, 10 times in a row. You should also try to do quick exercises; tighten your pelvic floor fully and then release it fully-up to 10 repeats. Remember to “squeeze when you sneeze” to help prevent leaks. Bear in mind that some women have tight pelvic floor muscles and in this case, learning how to relax the pelvic floor is the first goal. If you have pain or are unsure how to do your pelvic floor exercises, you should attend a pelvic floor physiotherapist who will give you an individualised program.
If you find that you are experiencing bladder problems following the birth of your baby, make an appointment to see a physiotherapist who specialises in women’s health. You will find these physios at your maternity hospital, in the community and in private practice. Urinary incontinence is very common in women who have had children but 70% of women will improve with simple physiotherapy and exercises.
Even if you have had bladder problems for years, it’s never too late to take action!