Women who have never given birth may experience incontinence...but there are ways to prevent it.
Women who haven’t had children may believe they’re protected against the urinary incontinence frequently associated with multiple vaginal births.
However, a recent Swedish study shows that among women over 45 who have not given birth vaginally, one in five experiences incontinence due to a weak pelvic floor.
The study looked at both leakage during exercise, and “urge incontinence,” or a sudden, urgent need to urinate, sometimes with leaks. Both types of incontinence increase as we age, with women in the 45-64 age group (the oldest cohort in the study) reporting the highest incidence.
While women who don't have kids are less likely to have continence issues, not having given birth vaginally is no guarantee.
How can I prevent or manage urinary incontinence?
First, exercise. Incontinence is often caused by a weak pelvic floor. So strengthen those muscles to reduce symptoms! Special exercises called Kegels can help you build up your lower core. This not only helps with incontinence, but it’s great protection against pelvic organ prolapse.
Second, keep your bladder empty. Hydrate, then eliminate! It’s sort of a no-brainer, but who among us isn’t guilty of waiting a little too long?
Third, avoid irritations. Don’t wait too long to urinate (see above), as that can irritate the lining of your bladder. Some women find that caffeine and alcohol are bladder irritants as well, so limit your consumption.
Fourth, consider a vaginal support like a pessary or even a tampon. While urine isn’t passed through the vagina, the support can help prevent leaks during activities like running.
Finally, maintain a healthy weight. Extra pounds can put pressure on your bladder and urethra, resulting in greater risk of stress incontinence (leaks when coughing or sneezing).
You don’t have to live with the leak. Check with your ob/gyn or general practitioner for advice and exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor and get your quality of life back!