Urinary incontinence or bladder leakage affects 1 in 3 adult women and 1 in 8 teens, so it's pretty common. It can be as little as a drop or as much as a flood. It can happen for a lot of different reasons. Things like pregnancy and birth are well-known causes, but it can also happen if you've had a cough for a long time (like with asthma), if you strain on the loo, if you're overweight, or if you're into a lot of regular high intensity exercise.
Mostly it happens because your pelvic floor muscles are lazy and aren't doing their job - and if that's the case, like any muscles, they just need to get a good work out! Click the slider to find out about the different types of bladder problems.
Have you ever been watching a funny movie, cracked up laughing and suddenly... a little pee has come out?
This is a type of incontinence called 'stress incontinence'. It happens when you add extra pressure to your abdomen by moving suddenly, like you might when you cough or sneeze, lift or jump. The reason things get a little damp is that your pelvic floor muscles can't deal with that extra pressure very well; they get a little lazy and allow some pee to leak out.
Our pelvic floor muscles (PFM) play a big part in helping keep our bladder closed so urine doesn't accidentally leak out when we aren't ready. Sometimes, even when it's not full, our bladder will squeeze really hard. If your PFM are weak, you might leak some urine, this is called 'urge incontinence'. If they are very strong, you might just feel you need to pee more than usual.
A well-functioning bladder should be relaxed while it fills. It sends a signal to the brain when it is getting full, but does not squeeze until you are sitting on the toilet and your brain sends the right signal. Then wollah, pee on demand!
A bladder is a bit like anything that holds liquid, it can only hold so much before it's too full and it starts to overflow. If your bladder can't tell when it's getting close to full, it will keeping filling and eventually it will overflow, causing you to leak urine. This is 'overflow incontinence'.
Sometimes, there might also be something in the way, stopping the urine from coming out when you want it to (like when you're on the loo), so it leaks out later. This is called 'obstruction incontinence'.
Both of these types of incontinence may require specialist help, and if left untreated, can cause kidney problems.
When your pelvic floor muscles are too weak (so they
can't tense up), or too tight/stiff (so they can't relax)
you might experience some bladder problems. Don't
know if this is you? Here are some of the symptoms:
Your pelvic floor muscle (PFM) has a very important job, it helps hold up all the other stuff you have going on inside — your uterus, bladder, bowel and other bits. When your PFM sags, those bits inside can feel like they are dragging down. This is called prolapse.
Prolapse can happen if you ignore small leaks, as a result of a tough pregnancy or birth, or if you do loads of heavy lifting. Starting your pelvic floor strengthening exercises when you're young can help to prevent it and other bladder problems.
Let's talk about poo and what's normal. Going to the loo for a number two is different for everyone, but if you go between three times a day to three times a week, your routine is pretty normal. What's not normal is not pooing for more than three days, or having poo that is too big or too hard to comfortably push out - it means you might be constipated.
Constipation can weaken and stretch the pelvic floor, aggravating stress and urge incontinence and boosting the risk of prolapse. It can be caused by anything from poor diet, not enough fluids or food intolerances.
-Your uterus is the bit where a baby grows.
-Your bowel absorbs nutrients then pushes the waste to the rectum.
-Your rectum stores the waste until you’re ready for a poo.
-Your spine supports your body and looks after your spinal cord.
-Your tail bone is what's left of the tail you had before you were born!
-Your anus is the opening where your poo comes out.
-Your pelvic floor muscles control your bladder and bowel and help keep all the important stuff, like your vagina and uterus, where they should be.
-Your vagina is the tube through which a baby or your period comes out of your body.
-Your urethra is the tube through which urine leaves your body.
-Your diaphragm is a sheet of muscle at the bottom of your lungs that makes you breathe.
-Your transverse abdominus is a sheet of muscle underneath the six pack muscle.
-Your multifidus are muscles that lie close to your back bone.
Introducing your core...
If you've ever been to the gym (or eaten chips on the couch while watching a workout video), you have heard all about your core and how important it is to your strength and how your body works.
Your core includes a whole bunch of different parts that, we'll be honest, have pretty fancy names (seriously, try them out) with some wild spelling. But stick with us — knowing a little about what's in your body and how it works can make all the difference to controlling your pee!
Zoom in on the bottom of your core
The pelvic ﬂoor muscles (PFM) at the bottom of your core support your organs and move up and down in time with your diaphragm.
Your PFM also works with an extra ring of muscle around your anus and urethra that stops your pee and poo from coming out at the wrong time.
If it's a bit lazy, weak or stretched, your PFM doesn't provide the support it should, and your organs can sag towards the gap at the bottom of your pelvis.
The TA, Diaphragm, Multiﬁdis and Pelvic Floor Muscles work together to make a stable foundation for movement. These four muscles together form your core.
A top down view to intro the bones
So far, we've learned the pelvic ﬂoor muscles work with some of your other parts to close things off and stop bladder problems like your pee and poo leaking out. But what about when you need to use the bits of your body down there?
The Pelvic Floor Muscles ﬁll the space between your tail bone, pubic bone and sit bones (bones you actually sit on) and close or opens for pee, poo and sex.
This diagram shows how your muscles can close off the bottom of the pelvis, while still allowing sex, childbirth and peeing and pooing at a time of your choice.
How it all works together
So, let's talk about how it all works - when it's working the way it should! Take a look at the handy diagram and follow the arrows. When everything works well, the pelvic ﬂoor lifts at the same time as the deep abdominals draw in and there is no change in breathing. This action causes the pressure inside to rise and prepares our bodies for movement.
When things aren't working so well, one part might do its job without the others, so as it draws in, the other parts naturally want to bulge out.
Why know all this? Like any muscles, once you know where your pelvic ﬂoor muscles are and how they work, you can visualise and consciously control them, so you can prevent bladder problems.
When you work your abs or your biceps or triceps, you do it by tightening and then releasing the muscles. Your pelvic floor muscles are the same. Give it a go!
Tighten the muscles around your anus as though you’re trying to stop a fart from escaping. Now do the same at the front, as though trying to stop pee coming out. Can you do it? To try tightening your vagina, squeeze in as you lift up, and then release and relax.