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Bladder leakage is when your bladder is put under pressure, resulting in you accidentally passing urine when you don’t want to. Normal everyday occurrences like laughing at a funny joke with friends, sneezing, coughing or exercising can cause a leak for many women, and God forbid you’re invited onto a bouncy castle at a child's party.
The main triggers are menopause, pregnancy and childbirth (which is why it’s no surprise that after birth you have your new baby in one hand, and a leaflet about your pelvic floor in the other), though strenuous exercise can result in an over-tight pelvic floor which can also cause bladder leaks. It may be something that happens regularly or only occasionally, and it can vary from a few dribbles to a complete loss of bladder control.
We often see Mumsnet users take to our Talk boards to share how this can leave them feeling stressed about exercising or going to public places without restrooms, which can take its toll on their confidence and mental health. Many of you end up suffering in silence as you are too embarrassed to talk about it, and find yourself misled by misinformation that’s out there surrounding the topic. As a result, it’s not surprising women are left feeling anxious over the matter, and understandably so.
“We went out for the day yesterday and really it was just a walk from one public toilet to another! And I couldn't even do anything when I got there.”
If you are among those who occasionally or regularly suffer from bladder leakage, we’ve designed this guide to help bust common myths and share exactly the thing you need to help you live life as you wish… And get back on the bouncy castle with your DC!
Bladder leakage misconceptions, busted
Myth #1: Only older women are affected by it
One of the biggest misconceptions about incontinence is that it only happens when you’re above a certain age. The chances of bladder leakage does indeed increase with age, but the three biggest triggers - pregnancy, childbirth and the menopause - mean women can be affected from a young age. Plus, cases resulting from an over-tight pelvic floor caused by strenuous exercise can affect women from an even earlier age.
Natalie Silverman, broadcaster and founder of the Fertility Podcast, found herself experiencing leakages early in life.
“I first experienced the problem about 10 years ago. I’ve always enjoyed exercising – from doing Yoga to playing tennis – but in preparation for my wedding I really took it up a notch, including doing more running and working with a personal trainer who got me flipping over tyres and doing some quite intensive repetitions.
“At the end of a session I was mortified to find that I’d usually leak so I always had to wear something around my waist to hide what was happening.”
The Fertility Podcast founder went on to give birth to her son, which further exasperated her bladder leakage problem.
“My leaks impacted pretty much all aspects of my life by now but by far my greatest sadness was that I couldn’t get into energetic games with my son in the way that I desperately wanted to. If my son asked me to play chase with him and there was any question of me needing the toilet, I’d have to say ‘no, mummy can’t do that right now’. Bouncing with him on the trampoline was definitely a no-go.”
Myth #2: Pelvic floor exercises are a cure-all
When it comes to regaining control of your bladder, especially after childbirth, you’re probably haunted by the voice of your midwife telling you to do those pelvic floor exercises. Whilst these can definitely help some women, they do need to be done properly so advice from a specialist physiotherapist is important. Without that help, many women find it difficult to perform pelvic floor exercises correctly.
But even when performed correctly they are not always a cure-all, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about your bladder leaks and your efforts at pelvic floor exercises. In fact they can even do more harm than good, as Dr. Aggy York, 42, found out.
The GP, mum and triathlete loved exercising, but soon discovered that her stress urinary incontinence actually got worse the more she exercised and focused on her pelvic floor, even though she also followed NHS guidelines (stop smoking if you do so, complete bladder training, avoid heavy lifting, lose excess weight, treat constipation, and cut down on caffeine and alcohol).
“I just didn’t understand why I could be at my fittest, with a strong pelvic floor, and have done my best to make serious lifestyle changes, but still leak. It was baffling.
“I just broke down and cried. It was soul-destroying because I knew I was doing everything I should be doing yet it wasn’t having any impact if anything, the leaks got worse”
Myth #3: Avoid heavy lifting and exercise
Any exercise can trigger bladder leakage for many sufferers. In fact, some women leak when brisk walking and doing moderate exercise. However certain high-impact exercises are more likely to cause leakage, such as jogging and aerobics, which involve a lot of jumping up and down, putting pressure on your pelvic floor. Sit ups are also a common cause of leaking.
However, as Christien Bird, Women’s Health Physiotherapist and co-founder of Menopause Movement, states “exercise is highly evidenced in terms of health benefits, it supports bone health, cardio-vascular health, builds lean muscle mass, helps supports mental health.. and the list goes on, it's a no-brainer… Due to bladder leakage, many women stop exercising or reduce intensity and lose enjoyment. This is a huge concern for all their health markers.'
It’s clear that exercise should never be sacrificed.
Myth #4: Pads are the only help available
You’d be forgiven for thinking incontinence pads are the only way to manage your leaky bladder. Sanitary pads and incontinence towels are a familiar product for us women thanks to our menstrual cycles, so what difference does using one make for a bit of urine?
The answer is a lot of difference. Sure, some women are okay using these available products to manage their incontinence, but using them is not the only option. Pads and liners help women to cope, but as a long-term solution, may make you worry even more. Is your pad visible? Is there an odour? Has your pad leaked? These are all things to take into consideration - and if you’re not comfortable, you can’t go about your daily life with ease.
A new innovative solution
It’s no surprise that you might feel uncomfortable discussing incontinence with your doctor - it can be embarrassing. But if your bladder leakage is frequent and is affecting the quality of your life, it’s important to seek medical advice.
A new solution we’ve heard a buzz around, which is being recommended by an increasing number of leading healthcare professionals, is Contrelle.
Contrelle works to relieve bladder leaks caused by stress urinary incontinence, helping women go about their daily lives without the constant worry of leaks. It is a U-shaped piece of body-compatible foam, around the size of your thumb, which is inserted into the vagina using a reusable applicator.
It’s as easy to insert as a tampon, but works very differently. Once in place, Contrelle supports and helps reposition the bladder neck to improve the angle of your bladder and applies light pressure to the top of the urethra. For many women this provides immediate relief from SUI-induced bladder leaks, stopping them before they happen rather than absorbing them like a sanitary pad. What’s more, you can still continue to use the toilet as normal, and leave it in place for up to 16 hours.
Both Natalie Silverman and Dr. Aggy York both swear by it. After trying Contrelle Natalie Silverman stated: “I couldn’t believe it - no leaks – not a drop. I just felt complete joy – it was totally liberating.
“At last, I was in control again and it felt truly life changing…. Finding Contrelle has been a complete game-changer for me. I don’t have to worry any more, which is such a relief.”
Whilst Dr Aggy York shared: “It was different to anything I’d come across to date and promised to work pretty much immediately, I thought: what have I got to lose, so I placed an order. When the kit arrived I put it to the test, doing a 9-mile fell run, hopping over obstacles – something normally guaranteed to cause serious leaking. When I got back home I was amazed to find that I was still dry as a bone – not even a drop of wee had come through. It was a revelation.”
Thrilled with the results - Dr York rushed to share her discovery with members of her 600-strong closed Facebook Group of sport-loving healthcare professionals.
“Stress incontinence had never come up and we talk about EVERYTHING in the group – no off-limits subjects. Within minutes, however, I received hundreds of responses saying: ‘That’s me too’, and requests to know more about this device.
“I’d always felt that this was just my issue. Now I know that’s not the case, I’m not only keen to pass on news about the solution I’ve found, but to get everyone to speak openly about a problem that women still seem to feel is taboo and could be stopping them from enjoying all important exercise.”
Whilst Contrelle is new to the UK, it has been popular with Scandinavian women for over 10 years with approaching 6 million devices used. It has been proven to be effective in 7 clinical trials, with results demonstrating 95% of women benefit from using Contrelle and 68% of women stop leaking completely when the device is in place.
Contrelle is available in three sizes. The Sizing Kit (RRP £6) contains all three, so you can find the most effective and comfortable fit. Once you have established your size, five packs (RRP £15) and 30 packs (RRP £75) are available.
Dr Rachel Ward, says ‘In my experience women are surprised how comfortable they are and how much difference it makes.’