Bladder Problems During Pregnancy
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During pregnancy it is common to experience a number of side effects. Many of these are well documented and generally spoken about; others come as a surprise and are things you may not have considered. The thing to remember is that these are usually normal to most pregnant women, most problems only occur for a period of the pregnancy and that the doctor or midwife is always there to help or advise about anything that may occur, no matter how small it seems.
Bladder problems are quite common among pregnant women especially in the third trimester of their pregnancy. As your body changes and grows in the later stages of the pregnancy, the womb will put pressure on the bladder. This will result in an increased need to urinate and an increased chance of bladder problems.
Do other women experience this?
Bladder control problems occur in over 50% of women during their first pregnancy and in around 85% of women in their second pregnancy, so you are by no means alone with these problems. If you ever feel alone, it is often useful to talk to the doctor or midwife or even to other pregnant women about these issues. It is often a lot easier to cope with such difficulties if you are able to chat to others who are in the same situation, allowing you to gain perspective and insight on some of the problems you may be experiencing.
Bladder weakness and urinary infections are so common during pregnancy that one of the purposes of the regular checkups will be to test for any symptoms of infection in the area. Infections if left untreated can lead to further complications so it is important to tell the doctor if you are experiencing burning sensations or discomfort. However, if quickly treated, the problem should go away easily and everything should return to normal. The midwife will also show you exercises that can help to reduce bladder weakness. If done regularly they can also help to maintain control and regular functionality.
What causes bladder problems?
The bladder is a circular muscle in which urine is stored; as the bladder fills up it sends a signal to the brain to say that it needs to be emptied. Muscles that surround the urinary tube, or urethra, control the opening and closing of the bladder and it is these muscles that relax as we urinate. These muscles, the sphincter muscles, which surround the urethra and the pelvic floor muscles which lie underneath the bladder, both work in combination to keep the bladder closed and then relax when we urinate. It is the pelvic floor muscles that often loosen a little during pregnancy thereby causing bladder weakness.
Sometimes, bladder control issues can also be symptomatic of the foetus pushing on the bladder. Again, this is not uncommon but it can cause some discomfort. Stress incontinence is also common during pregnancy, when the urethra will leak slightly if you sneeze, laugh, cough, run or jump. The exercises the midwife will show you will focus on the pelvic muscles. The exercises are based on tightening and strengthening these muscles and minimising the control issues that you experience. Bladder control issues are still fairly symptomatic however and tend to just be an irritating side effect of the later stages of the pregnancy.
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are sometimes caused because the bladder and urinal tract generally become slightly less efficient during pregnancy. The muscle tone of the ureters (the tubes between the bladder and kidneys) decreases during pregnancy which causes them to dilate and the flow of urine to slow down. Similarly, the bladder looses tone during pregnancy, meaning it often can't empty completely and so urine moves less quickly through the system. Likewise, reflux causes the retention of urine and again increases the chance of infection. There is no evidence that pregnancy causes an increased risk of cystitis, however, urinary tract infections are fairly common.
Are there treatments available?
There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of bladder problems during pregnancy and to sort the issue when it arises. Drinking lots of water should help to maintain a healthy system, while cranberry juice has been proven to reduce the risk of bacteria taking hold. Bladder training as well as exercises are among the various things that can be done at home to sort the issue. Sometimes keeping a diary, training your body to know when leakage may be expected or alternately extending the periods between urinating can help to control bladder weakness. It is best to talk to your doctor or midwife before trying any solution of this sort. They should be able to advise you on how to proceed. As mentioned above, pelvic exercises are also useful in increasing muscle control in the area.
There is also medication available for the more extreme cases although you should always chat to your doctor before considering any of these options. It is often best to try to avoid medication for less serious issues. There are, however, certain blocking devices available as well as a number of medication options that may work to control muscle spasms in the area or strengthen the muscles in the urethra.
UTIs are treated in much the same way when the patient is pregnant as they are in normal cases, although doctors may try to limit the course of antibiotics to as short a period as possible. Antibiotics will relieve the symptoms within the course of a few days and once you are off the antibiotics, regular checkups will be conducted to ensure that the area is clear and uninfected. If a kidney infection develops during pregnancy (an issue that is regularly tested for) then the patient will need regular treatment and care. They will probably be sent to hospital so they can receive regular checkups as well as treatment until the infection has gone away.
Will bladder control issues go away after the birth?
Bladder weakness tends to go away within a few weeks after giving birth as the added pressure on your body will have gone. There is generally post-natal advice given which will encourage the body to move back to a regular routine. Minimal medication may be used if there is lingering symptoms, but generally your body's usual routine will re-establish itself. If your body hasn't returned to its usual routine within a month or so it may be worth consulting a health professional for some advice. It is often advisable to continue to do pelvic floor exercises after the birth; these exercises can improve your health and will continue to aid with any muscle weakness in the area.
Bladder problems during pregnancy are very common and generally little to worry about. As with any problem during pregnancy, it is always ideal to talk to a health professional when these problems arise, just to be on the safe side and to ensure that you and your baby are getting the best care available to you. It is also advisable to mix with other pregnant women to listen to their stories and obtain advice and support from other people's experiences. Feeling alone can be one of the most detrimental states of mind and just speaking to other people, chatting and joking about issues can immediately help to make you feel better and more confident about yourself.