The most common form is stress incontinence, characterised by the loss of small amounts of urine during activities that increase abdominal pressure (sneezing, coughing or during physical exercise). At the gym you may notice it when you lift weights, do abdominal crunches or any activities that involve running or jumping.
Stress incontinence most often results from weakened pelvic floor muscles. During pregnancy, hormonal changes and the extra weight of the baby can weaken these muscles. In addition, they can also be weakend during childbirth, particularly if there is a prolonged second stage of labour, if the baby is bigger than 4kg or if instruments are used during delivery.
While common, urinary incontinence shouldn't be accepted as a normal consequence of having a baby. In many cases it can be easily treated so you should visit your doctor and not just continue to rely on pads. The most common form of treatment is pelvic floor exercises which are designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles through actively tightening and lifting them at intervals. Many women benefit from seeing a physiotherapist with a special interest in the pelvic floor to help them perform the exercises properly.
A physiotherapist, your doctor or an exercise physiologist can all provide advice about which gym activities do not place extra stress on the pelvic floor. Using a stationary bike (but not a spin class), walking rather than running on a treadmill, modifying weight training with seated exercises and lighter weights, yoga and pilates classes are all ideal. See the Continence Foundation's Pelvic Floor First website www.pelvicfloorfirst.org.au/ for more pelvic floor safe exercises and a free app.
Last updated: June 2014
© Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. This article was written by Kirsten Braun and reviewed by the Women's Health Queensland Wide editorial committee. It was published in Health Journey Issue 2 2014.