Healing Urinary Incontinence Postpartum
Urinary incontinence is a loss of voluntary bladder control which commonly affects mostly women, especially older women and women who have recently given birth. Incontinence can either be acute (short term) or persistent (chronic); acute incontinence is usually the result of an infection, whereas persistent incontinence develops over time and can be the result of multiple underlying root causes. Understanding what your specific root causes are will help you to tackle the issue at its core, decreasing symptoms and providing relief. Do not assume that loss of bladder control is an inevitable part of getting older or that nothing can be done to prevent or heal incontinence.
There are several types of incontinence, including
Stress incontinence: The most common bladder control problem, this is leakage that occurs when a person coughs, sneezes, laughs, lifts a heavy object, or performs any other activity that places increased pressure on the lower abdomen. In general, the bladder is rarely completely emptied. Dribbling is more common than complete evacuation of the bladder contents. This problem is a result of weakened pelvic floor muscles, which can be due to pregnancy.
Overactive bladder: Abnormal nerves send signals to the bladder at the wrong times, causing bladder muscles to contract without warning. Women with overactive bladder often urinate very frequently (8+ times a day and 2+ times a night), have a sudden or strong need to urinate immediately, leak or gush urine that follows a sudden urge, and experience nocturia (waking up at night to go to the bathroom).
Functional incontinence: The uncontrollable urge to empty your bladder before you can reach the bathroom. This can be caused by stress, environmental changes, and mobility restrictions.
Reflex incontinence: Usually due to spinal cord injury or other neurological impairment, this results in a loss of sensation leading to bladder leakage. Total incontinence is the unpredictable loss of urine at all times; it can be caused by neurological dysfunction, abdominal surgery, spinal cord injury, or an anatomical defect.
Pregnancy and childbirth are two leading causes of urinary incontinence. Urinating more frequently while pregnant is to be expected, but post-delivery you might not expect the issue to persist. However, sometimes bladder leakage doesn’t stop after giving birth. Postpartum urinary incontinence can be caused by the weakening and stretching of the muscles around the bladder and pelvis during delivery, gestational diabetes, low estrogen levels, episiotomies, recurrent UTIs, frequent constipation, being overweight, diseases that damage nerve pathways from the bladder to the brain, or hip dysfunction. During postpartum recovery, the uterus begins to shrink back to its normal size as well, which can put pressure on the bladder.
While it’s common, urinary incontinence is also frustrating, inconvenient, and at times embarrassing. There are natural ways to help prevent and treat incontinence. Read on!
Do kegel exercises. This involves contracting and releasing the same muscles you use to stop urinary flow, in order to enhance and maintain pelvic floor muscle tone. For the first week of doing kegels, the goal is to flex your pelvic floor muscles for 5 seconds at a time for 5 reps. One rep is flexing for 5 seconds, then relaxing for 5 seconds. If you’re tightening your abs, thigh muscles, or butt muscles, you’re not flexing properly - focus on isolating and only flexing the pelvic floor muscles. After completing the first week, continue to build up to 10 reps of 10 seconds of flexing and 10 seconds of relaxing, and perform this sequence 3 times per day. Always keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity, so stop performing the exercise if you lose proper form. You should see an improvement after 6-12 weeks of continued practice.
Note: Kegel exercises should not be practiced while urinating as this can train your bladder to not empty completely, worsening incontinence and potentially causing UTIs.
Eat cranberries and blueberries. These berries prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder, which may prevent urinary tract infections that can lead to urinary incontinence.
Healing with food
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, carbonated beverages, chocolate, processed foods, and tobacco. These substances contain chemicals that have an adverse effect on the bladder and worsen all symptoms of urinary incontinence.
Drink adequate amounts of water. While urinary incontinence might make you want to drink fewer liquids, not drinking enough can irritate the bladder and make incontinence worse. Make sure to stay properly hydrated by consuming at least half of your bodyweight in ounces of water daily.
Healing with Supplements and Herbs
Add free form amino acids (use a vegetarian formulation). Helps to strengthen bladder muscles. Use as directed on label, typically 3-4 capsules per day.
Ensure adequate magnesium consumption. Magnesium is required for proper nerve and muscle functioning. Having sufficient levels of magnesium in the body can help with urinary incontinence and reduce the need to urinate at night. This mineral helps to relieve incontinence by reducing muscle spasms and allowing the bladder to empty completely. Magnesium can be taken in supplement form or consumed in your daily diet through foods including spinach, Swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, organic yogurt or kefir, almonds, black beans, avocados, figs, and bananas. Try 350mg daily of magnesium citrate.
Calcium. Helps to control bladder spasms. Try 1,500mg daily in a mixed Calcium/Magnesium supplement (do not use calcium alone).
Zinc. Helps to improve bladder function. Try 80mg daily, but do not exceed 100mg from all supplement sources.
Try St. John’s wort. This herb has the potential to help treat urinary incontinence by easing contractions of the bladder. How to use: Place 1-2 tsp of the dried herb in a cup of hot water and drink as a tea twice daily. In tincture form, up to 5mL 3x/day.
Give acupuncture a go. Depending on the cause of your urinary incontinence, acupuncture can help to lessen the symptoms.
Do not delay emptying the bladder. Make sure that you urinate every 2-3 hours during the day.
Do not use “feminine hygiene sprays”, packaged douches, bubble baths or tampons, sanitary pads or toilet paper containing fragrance. The chemicals these products contain are potentially irritating.
Preventing - and healing - urinary incontinence is possible. If you’ve developed it postpartum, rest assured that it’s a normal but surmountable condition. With proper nutritional, herbal, supplemental, and lifestyle support, you can help reclaim your former bladder health.