Delivering Vaginally Doubles Chances of Incontinence

There are many positive things that happen during childbirth, but there are some not-so-awesome side effects, like incontinence, otherwise known as a leaky bladder.

Delivering Vaginally Doubles Chances of Incontinence Vladimir Gjorgiev/Shutterstock

One of the biggest—and most common—problems new moms complain about is a leaky bladder. It's a popular topic for good reason: stress or urinary incontinence affects 30-50 percent of women after childbirth.

But why does it tend to affect some mothers more than others? A meta-analysis of 26 different studies on the subject, from Helsinki University Hospital and Kuopio University Hospital, found that vaginal delivery brings with it almost twice the risk of stress incontinence when compared to cesarean sections.

Why incontinence happens

"It's simple mechanics," OBGYN Draion M. Burch, D.O., tells Fit Pregnancy of why there's such a huge difference. "Having big babies and excessive pushing increase the risk of damage to the nerves—more specifically the pudendal nerve—and muscles of the pelvic floor. The nerves and muscles are stretched too much and for too long."

Pushing too early and or when the baby is high in the pelvis also increases your risk of damage, according to Dr. Burch.

But that's not to say that you should opt for a C-section to keep it from happening. "A planned cesarean section increases the baby's risk of needing emergency care and the mother's risk of developing blood clot, bleeding as well as uterine rupture and placental adhesion disorders in subsequent pregnancies," author Riikka Tähtinen, obstetrics and gynecology consultant at from Kuopio University Hospital, wrote in the meta-analysis published in European Urology.

Getting it treated

Sure, it's nice that stress incontinence affects other moms, but that's not exactly comforting when you leak at the most inopportune times. Luckily, there are surgical options to help keep it from happening, but the first line of defense should be strengthening the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is essentially comprised of three layers—the superficial perineal layer, the deep urogenital layer and the pelvic diaphragm. Each contains a series of muscles that function as a "net" to support your body. You have to strengthen those muscles like you would any other muscle in your body—through consistent strength training using exercises like Kegels.

"Hold the contraction for 10 seconds and relax for 10 seconds," recommends Dr. Burch. "Try to do three sets of 10 reps a day."

Other pelvic floor exercises—like elevators—also work to strengthen the area. Dr. Burch recommends trying Ben Wa balls, essentially a pair of metal balls you insert into your vagina that acts as weights.

"Since the balls are weighted, you have to use your muscles in the vagina to hold them in," he says. "Buy the ones with the string attached to them. This way you can increase resistance by tugging on them."

And as for the safety? "You won't lose them!" he adds.