When Faith Tan peed on herself and wet the floor shortly after the birth of her daughter, she brushed off the incident as a one-time embarrassment. After all, she’d had a hard time pushing out her third baby.
But Faith never quite regained control of her bladder. Within a week of giving birth, adult diapers had become her postpartum norm. She was suffering from what is medically known as urinary incontinence.
This is what to know about the condition, so you can minimise your risk – a take back control of your bladder (and life).
Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leaking of urine when you cough, sneeze, run jump or carry heavy things. The effects can range from a minor leak (a few drops) to substantial spurts of urine.
“According to Singhealth,” says Dr. Kelly Loi, medical director of Health & Fertility Centre for Women, “15 percent of women in Singapore suffer from urinary incontinence, but most are too embarrassed to even discuss it with their doctors.” She also adds that an estimated 30 percent of females aged between 30 and 60 are thought to suffer from it.
The condition is caused by the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles and ligaments – a common occurrence during pregnancy and childbirth due to the weight of the enlarged womb on the pelvic floor.
“The condition is typically more prevalent with vaginal births,” says Dr. Loi and may be more likely if it takes a long time to push the baby out, or you need an assisted delivery with a vacuum or forceps to help. However, even mums who have C-sections are susceptible to urinary incontinence, she notes.
Other risk factors include menopause, obesity and even smoking.
While you’re pregnant, try to avoid straining, such as if you have a prolonged cough or chronic constipation, Dr. Loi advises.
Also, do not lift heavy loads or objects, as this can add to the existing stress on your pelvic floor. Instead, Dr. Loi recommends doing three sets of 20 Kegels a day. If done regularly, these exercises can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, and help prevent up to 60 percent of mild urinary incontinence cases.
The simplest way to identify the right muscles for Kegel exercises is to stop your urine flow halfway when urinating – these are the muscles to activate to do a proper Kegel.
However, refrain from practicing Kegels while you are urinating or passing motion, as this may cause urinary-tract infections (UTIs).
After pregnancy, Dr. Loi suggests that you follow traditional Asian “confinement” advice such as refraining from doing housework and exercise, or lifting heavy things during the four- to six-week confinement period. Continuous stress on the pelvic floor may cause pelvic organ prolapse, where the womb, bladder or bowel drops into the vagina.
Sometimes, says Dr. Loi, Kegels alone may not be effective, and you may require other forms of treatment. These can range from pharmacological options like hormonal medications to surgery where transvaginal tape (TVT) is placed along the midway of the urethra.
Alternatively, Dr. Loi recommends laser treatments such as IncontiLase, which may be useful for mild to moderate cases of urinary incontinence.
A patenting-pending laser therapy, IncontiLase is said to work best for treating mild- to moderate-degree urinary incontinence.
It thermally affects the vaginal tissue, and is designed to stimulate collagen remodelling and the “synthesis of new collagen fibres” in the urethral orifice and the anterior vaginal wall. This, claims Dr. Loi, aids in the shrinking and tightening of vaginal tissue, and subsequently, help provide greater support for your bladder while returning normal continence function.
“IncontiLase is said to be painless and can be done as an outpatient procedure,” says Dr. Loi. It does not require incisions, sutures, analgesics or antibiotics and has minimal downtime, which means you can continue with most of your regular activities immediately.
That said, you should refrain from intercourse and swimming for at least two weeks after the procedure, she cautions. “In most cases, two sessions, held one month apart, should suffice, but this depends on the severity of your condition and your response to the treatment,” says Dr. Loi.
By Elisa Chia and Hazel Vincent De Paul, The Finder Kids (Vol. 20), September 2017
Like this? Read more parenting stories here,