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Motherhood ushers in a lot of changes, both emotionally and physically, for those who take on the role. While it can lead to a new sense of purpose and feelings of unconditional love, it can simultaneously lead to worry, physical exhaustion, and, in the case of multi-hyphenate talent Whitney Port: bladder leakage.
“When I started working out after having [my son] Sonny, I experienced bladder leakage trying to do jumping jacks or any kind of cardio,” Port tells mbg.
While stress urinary incontinence may not be one of the joys of having children, it is an incredibly common side effect—both from vaginal and cesarean deliveries.
How does pregnancy affect the pelvic floor?
“Although pelvic floor muscles stretch over 300% during vaginal delivery, being pregnant increases your risk of pelvic floor dysfunction regardless of how you deliver,” physical therapist Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, explains. “The pregnancy itself causes postural and hormonal changes that increase the risk of bladder leaks.”
Exercise, laughter, coughing, sneezing, bending, lifting, etc., can trigger these leaks—making them essentially unavoidable postpartum. As many as four in 10 women experience urinary incontinence after giving birth, and many of them (including Port) don’t expect to.
“I didn’t really think much about my pelvic floor before becoming a mom,” she tells mbg. “I think the terminology starts sparking when you get pregnant and you’re about to have the baby.” After learning of its importance, Port began taking prenatal Pilates classes, focused on the core and the pelvic floor. And of course, following the birth, those exercises became even more top-of-mind.
How to manage bladder leakage after having kids.
Once she gave her body an adequate amount of time to rest and recover, Port began engaging in more active movements. “Yoga and Pilates are my two big major workouts,” she tells us, adding that she prioritized postnatal pelvic floor and ab-strength workouts.
While these longer-form classes can be great resources, Jeffcoat says simple pelvic floor contractions can also be helpful for new moms experiencing bladder leaks. These exercises activate fast-twitch muscle fibers, she says. Here’s how to do them:
- Contract your pelvic floor muscles (the muscles from the pubic bone to the tailbone).
- Hold one to two seconds.
- Perform 10 to 15 repetitions to start.
Over time, and with consistent pelvic floor strengthening, the incontinence should go away. In the meantime, Jeffcoat recommends wearing a pad with wings so it stays in place during exercise (she likes this Poise 2-in-1 option for period and bladder leakage).
Why is a healthy pelvic floor so important?
Paying attention to your pelvic floor well before pregnancy can help prevent bladder leakage later on, and for those who don’t have children, the benefits extend beyond childbirth.
“A properly functioning pelvic floor allows you to lead a more active lifestyle since the pelvic floor is integral to four major bodily functions: organ support, sphincteric function, sexual function, and postural support,” Jeffcoat explains. It’s never too early (or too late) to start practicing those Kegels!