Changes in your body during pregnancy make it harder to control your bladder. You may notice you’re dribbling pee when you surprise yourself with a cough or sneeze. You may have trouble “holding it” or find yourself needing more bathroom breaks. Kegel exercises, diet changes and planned bathroom breaks can all help.
Urinary incontinence happens when you have trouble controlling your bladder. If you experience incontinence, you might feel an urgent need to pee, or you may leak urine (pee) between trips to the bathroom. You may also find yourself making more frequent trips to the toilet. Bladder control problems happen for many reasons, including pregnancy and childbirth.
The good news is that incontinence during pregnancy is usually temporary. Things usually return to normal a few months after your baby’s born or the pregnancy ends.
Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is the most common type during pregnancy. With SUI, you dribble or pee when you:
You may also experience urge urinary incontinence (UUI). With UUI, the muscles in your bladder squeeze without your control, causing you to feel the sudden, uncontrollable urge to pee. It can make you run to the toilet, only to find you dribbled before making it in time.
It is. Approximately 40% to over half of people experience bladder control problems during pregnancy. It’s most common in the third trimester, when the fetus is heaviest and placing the most pressure on your bladder, but incontinence can happen at any stage.
It’s also common to experience incontinence after pregnancy. Childbirth — vaginal deliveries, in particular — can cause or worsen bladder control problems.
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Most of us have experienced an unintended dribble at some point. During pregnancy, these “accidents” can become more common. You may notice changes as early as your first trimester. The likelihood of losing bladder control increases as your pregnancy progresses.
Signs and symptoms include:
During pregnancy, your body goes through changes that are ideal for allowing a fetus to grow — but not so good for bladder control.
Your uterus is located behind your bladder. A growing fetus inside your uterus can pressure or squish your bladder so it holds less pee. Also, hormone changes during pregnancy cause the pelvic floor muscles that hold your bladder in place to loosen and weaken. An increase in progesterone causes these muscles to become more flexible. Flexibility allows your body to adapt to a developing fetus and (when the time comes) deliver a baby.
But weak pelvic floor muscles also make it harder to “hold it” when the urge hits.
Childbirth (and vaginal deliveries in particular) can also lead to bladder control problems. Causes include:
If you have bladder control problems before pregnancy, they’ll likely continue or worsen during pregnancy. Having conditions that affect your bladder, like repeat urinary tract infections (UTIs), can also lead to bladder control trouble. Other risk factors include:
Urinary incontinence during pregnancy is so common that many people don’t bother telling their providers. But you should alert your provider if you’re having bladder control issues. Your provider can recommend strategies to help you better manage things. Usually, normal bladder function returns after pregnancy.
If you’re still having issues six weeks or more after your pregnancy’s ended, you should check with your provider to see what’s going on. They’ll perform a physical exam and order tests to check your bladder function and rule out various medical conditions. Tests may include:
You can do several things to improve your bladder control during pregnancy. For example, doing Kegel exercises can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support your bladder, giving you more bladder control.
Other lifestyle changes can help, too. You can:
In the meantime, you may need to wear pads or leak-proof incontinence underwear. It can feel embarrassing to need the extra help. Remember, though, that many other pregnant people are experiencing the same thing (and many before you have been here, too).
Kegel exercises can help you better control the muscles you’ll use during childbirth. They can also help promote tissue healing after pregnancy. Still, check with a provider to ensure it’s safe. If you’ve had a tear or another injury during childbirth, you may need to wait to heal before attempting Kegels.
To do Kegel exercises, squeeze the muscles you’d use if you were trying to stop the flow of pee or trying not to pass gas. Try not to move your leg, butt or stomach muscles. Hold for a slow count of 10 seconds. Then, relax. Repeat the squeeze and release pattern 15 times for one set of Kegels. Then, do four more sets for a total of five sets.
Do your Kegel exercises daily.
There isn’t a foolproof way to prevent incontinence. But you can make lifestyle changes (like regularly performing Kegels) that make it more manageable.
Most people regain their normal bladder control three to six months after the baby’s born or the pregnancy ends.
But your risk of experiencing incontinence after pregnancy often depends on your particular experience, including the type of delivery (vaginal or C-section) and other risk factors like your weight.
Sometimes, incontinence that improves after pregnancy returns several years later. It’s important to keep in mind that factors other than pregnancy also increase your risk of incontinence, including pelvic floor muscles that weaken with age.
For most people, the dribbling isn’t a major problem insomuch as it’s an embarrassing annoyance. Wearing a pad is often enough to manage the leakage. Still, your provider needs to know about symptoms you’re experiencing. There are steps you can take to improve your bladder control.
Schedule a visit with your healthcare provider if the problem continues for six weeks or more after your pregnancy. Also, see your provider at any point if incontinence interferes with your quality of life. If you’re skipping social events because you’re worried about your bladder or if you’ve become more self-conscious — it’s time to reach out for help.
Color, smell and texture all provide clues about whether you’re leaking pee or vaginal discharge. Healthy pee should be watery, clear or pale yellow. It may have a slight ammonia smell or no smell at all. On the other hand, vaginal discharge may be a range of colors, including clear, white, dark yellow, brown, green or gray. It may have a distinct fishy smell if you have an infection. Chunky or foamy discharge may also be a sign of an infection.
Use your senses to determine whether you’re leaking pee or have another issue. And if there’s any question, see your provider. Infections during pregnancy can pose risks both to you and the fetus.
Amniotic fluid cushions the fetus in your uterus and leaks from your body when your water breaks. It may gush, but sometimes it may feel like you’re peeing. If you’re unsure if what’s leaking is amniotic fluid or pee, check the color and smell in your underwear. Amniotic fluid is thin, odorless and clear. Or it may be straw-colored or tinged with brown or green. If you’re getting a whiff of ammonia, you’re leaking pee. If you smell something fishy or unpleasant, you may have an infection.
It’s best not to take chances. Contact your healthcare provider if you’re unsure about the fluids you’re leaking.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
While changes in your body during pregnancy may make controlling your bladder harder, you have more power to manage incontinence than you might think. If you’re pregnant and dribbling or leaking pee, it’s worth mentioning to your provider. They can guide you on lifestyle changes that can help. Watching what you eat can help. Daily Kegel exercises and planning bathroom breaks can also help. Don’t accept discomfort as your new reality or allow bladder control problems to keep you from doing the things you enjoy.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/31/2023.
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