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It's a silent problem, experts say. But for U.S. women, it's a growing one.
New research shows that an estimated 1 out of 4 American woman suffers from a pelvic health issue including bladder control problems. While the chance of having a pelvic floor disorder increases with age and the number of times a woman has given birth, the problem also plagues young female athletes and those who have never delivered a child.
But incontinence, a common and often life-altering condition, is rarely discussed, even among friend. "It's a silent problem," said urogynecologist Kimberly Kenton of Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, co-author of the first national study to document the serious extent of the damage.
In the recent National Institute of Health study among first-time moms-to-be, those who did kegel exercises were 56 percent less likely to develop urinary incontinence in late pregnancy, and they had a 50 percent lower risk in the first 12 weeks after delivery and 30 percent lower risk 3 to 6 months after giving birth. In the same study, women who already had incontinence and also did pelvic exercises were 21 percent less likely to have leaks 6 months to 1 year after giving birth.
Arnold Kegel, a University of Southern California gynecologist, developed the exercise in the 1940s to help women with postpartum incontinence. Experts say a good Kegel program can reduce weekly incontinence episodes by 50 to 60 percent.
It's also a booming field: There are physical therapists out there who specialize in treating women with pelvic, lower back and hip pain after childbirth.
Doing Kegels daily can pay off in the long run, so get to it. For a how-to, check out our handy All About Kegels guide.
Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.