Wee Need to Talk

Stress incontinence.

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times (Gold Status and Physically Fit at 58). It has nothing to do with being stressed, and a lot to do with wetting yourself. It’s not something we talk about.

I think it’s something we should talk about.

Stress incontinence basically means you wet yourself when you cough, sneeze, laugh, run, jump, (or, when my stress incontinence was at its worst, simply step off a kerb).

I apologise for the TMI nature of this post – but I don’t apologise for putting the subject out there.

How many of us sort of pretend that we never really wanted to run or jump anyway – rather than ‘admit’ that we’ll wet ourselves if we do? And what does that do for our own health, and having fun with our kids and grandkids (or having fun without our kids and grandkids), and for people’s perceptions of what women can or should be doing?

It’s an extremely common side-effect of childbirth – something of a design fault there I think. Mine started when I had my first child, got worse when I had fibroids, and improved (but didn’t disappear completely) when I had my hysterectomy.

It’s the single thing most likely to prevent otherwise healthy women from exercising. And not just exercising – it generally stops us being able to run around like giddy kippers.

This is how the NHS suggests we deal with it.

  • Pelvic floor exercises. (All together now…) The NHS recommends 8 muscle contractions, 3 times a day, for at least 3 months. Has ANYONE in the history of womankind ever remembered to do their pelvic floor exercises??
  • Stop smoking – smoking leads to coughing, coughing leads to stress incontinence. This is just one of many good reasons for giving up smoking.
  • Do the right exercises. Don’t do high-impact exercise. Ah. Here I have a problem. Stress incontinence is preventing a lot of women from exercising – telling them not to exercise is missing the point. Pilates is fine – but some of us want to do more than that.
  • Avoid lifting. This got me quite cross. It goes on: if you do need to lift something, like children or shopping (because, let’s face it, those are the only things a woman could possibly actually need to lift…) then tighten your pelvic floor muscles before and during the lift. Really? Does all that tightening only work if you’re lifting kids or shopping? Here’s a thought – whenever and whatever you need to lift, tighten your pelvic floor muscles before and during the lift. In my normal life, just in the last week, I’ve needed to lift a large bag of compost, a toilet (two-person lift), a lawn mower, a flat-packed kitchen cabinet, and a printer. And yes, a couple of bags of shopping. But no children. Avoid lifting? Ridiculous.
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight.
  • Treat constipation promptly.
  • Reduce caffeine (it can irritate the bladder).
  • Reduce alcohol (it’s a diuretic).
  • Get the amount of water you drink just right – too much and you’ll have a full bladder, too little and your urine will be strong and will irritate, and over time your bladder capacity will reduce.
  • Avoid spicy or acidic foods.

The MOST important thing is not to let it stop you doing what you want to do. Do what you gotta do. Wear what you gotta wear.

I let it stop me for 29 years. 29 years when I could have been running and jumping and generally being a giddy kipper.

If you know someone who might be suffering from stress incontinence, please share this with them. Let’s start talking about it.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. anglosvizzera says:

    Great subject. It affects so many women, especially after childbirth.

    My second child, my son, weighed in at 10lb 10 1/2 oz, so you can imagine after having given birth to him ‘naturally’ (albeit with an epidural) my pelvic floor was pretty weak. I had various consultations with an incontinence nurse, who told me how wonderful doing the pelvic floor exercises were – that patients she saw who were in their nineties were able to avoid surgery after following her instructions. I also had some kind of electronic physio treatment that involved two electrodes (one inserted vaginally and the other externally on the perineal area – not a great experience, I have to say) which contracted the muscles, designed to “get things going” as she put it!

    Anyway, 2 further babies later, things weren’t too bad, all things considered, but I decided not to continue with the tap-dancing classes I had just been to as a ‘taster’…

    A few years later, I had an operation to insert some kind of ‘tape’ to support the bladder which I hoped would help – it didn’t. The surgeon was meant to see me for a follow-up assessment and didn’t, so I reckon he was no more a surgeon than a barber. I had no desire to have a repeat operation either so didn’t pursue the follow-up appointment.

    Now 21 years after my youngest was born, I very much appreciate the discreet products that are available for such problems. I have almost cut out caffeine which does help a lot (occasionally ‘give up’ alcohol for a few weeks at a time – no difference), but my issue now is more to do with ‘urgency’ rather than stress incontinence, and is very unpredictable. Still, it’s liveable-with for now.

    In the shower this morning I was thinking that if I live to my mother’s age when she died, I’m still only two thirds of the way through my life, as she was 93 and I’m nearly 62. And in my musings I wondered what state my pelvic floor would be in by then! I decided not to worry about it – just take life as it comes…or doesn’t.

    I am not entirely happy with having to buy disposable products, and have glanced online at reusable options that are available – but I’m not convinced that they would ‘do the job’ in a worst-case scenario. If anyone reading this has experience of them, I’d be pleased to know your opinion!!


    1. Thank you so much for replying. It really is an important topic – it stops so many women doing so many things. I think we’re just starting to realise how many topics women have kept quiet about for an awfully long time. #MeToo etc has shown us that!!


  2. Tammy Perry says:

    Yes! I’ve been dealing with this, and wow, exercise and running and jumping actually makes it better!!!


    1. That’s so true – crazy, isn’t it!! I guess it’s just a muscle like any other muscle, and the more you use it the better it gets.


  3. gosforthgirl says:

    This was me about five years reluctantly having vaginal mesh surgery. Mine wasnt a total success like many people I knew because it was discovered that my spleen was in my pelvis and for a few months after surgery, it was thought that I had ovarian cancer!

    I think now wryly that I cant even have my major organs in the right place……!

    So now having had a splenectomy, the sppleen a=caused so much damage to the vaginal walls my operation will no be de facto a complete success 😦

    Lots of controversy about the vaginal tape surgery abound but I remember at the time I really wasn`t functioning well and was then about 60 so it was a pretty miserable existence constantly leaking.

    I am sure that a lot of women find it a totally humiliating experience whether they have surgery or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. Humiliating is the word. I think that’s exactly why it’s important to talk about it, so we each know we’re not alone.

      When my fibroid was at its worst, I really didn’t want to go out at all – partly because I looked 6 months pregnant which at 52 I found deeply mortifying, but also because of the leaking. It was starting to affect my mental health – luckily I had the hysterectomy before too much damage was done on that front.

      I really do think it’s a much bigger issue than any of us realise.

      Liked by 1 person

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