November is Bladder Health Month and as a three-time mother, I know all too well the importance of regaining bladder control. That first time you sneeze and feel that heart-wrenching squirt of warm urine, that’s when things get real. To be clear, immediately after having a baby, it is normal to lose some bladder control. By the two to three-month mark, if that jump, run, cough or sneeze leaves you hoping the urine leak wasn’t enough to wet the seat of your pants, you may need some help. In this article I will help you regain bladder control with weights and answer the following questions:
- What is the pelvic floor?
- What are kegel exercises?
- How often should you do kegel exercises?
- Can vaginal weights help you to regain bladder control?
- Are there other benefits to the periodic use of vaginal weights to regain bladder control?
- What dietary changes can you make to improve bladder control?
- Pelvic Floor physical therapy: How can it help?
- If all else fails…
The Pelvic Floor is a group of muscles that form a bowl around your urethra (where you urinate), the vagina and the rectum. These muscles are what you use to hold in urine and gas, so that you can choose where you drop those bombs. There are also the muscles used to push out constipated bowel movements, and babies. When lifting heavy things, some also engage those muscles and push.
Problems with the pelvic floor can arise if a person pushes too much and too often, or if they have children, even if the children are born via c-section. Pregnancy and pushing can cause the pelvic floor muscles to be too flexible. Also, if left unchecked, those muscles can become weak and difficult to control. Soon your bladder could run your life because you won’t have the ability to hold urine on command. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in my quality of life being dictated by the whims of my bladder. Nah.
If you sit on the toilet to urinate and try to stop the urine mid-stream, the muscles you use for that are the pelvic floor muscles. I don’t recommend regularly stopping urination mid-stream because that can lead to incomplete bladder emptying, but for the purposes of identification of activation of those muscles, it is okay.
The Pelvic Floor muscles are the same muscles used to hold in flatulence or loose bowel movement. You should be able to squeeze and contract these muscles while at rest without anyone knowing you re doing it. Make sure that your abdominal muscles are relaxed and you are not moving your legs or thighs. You should also be able to breathe in and out slowly independent of these muscles. No holding your breath, moving your buttocks or making funny faces lol.
The proper Kegel exercise protocol/regimen can vary depending on your source, but I like this summary by the Mayo Clinic:
Squeeze and hold for three seconds at a time, then relax for three seconds.
Aim to do this 10 to 15 times in a row and try to do two to three sets per day.
I say start with 10 squeezes twice per day, even if you can only squeeze for a second or two. Then try to work up to a three-second squeeze, 10 times per day, and continue to progress in your ability. I tie my Kegels to some other action of the day. I sometimes do them while brushing my teeth and sometimes while watching TV in the evening. Fun fact, I always do them while I’m delivery babies. There is something about helping a woman push an 8-pound human out of their vagina that reminds me to keep it tight, or at least functional.
Vaginal weights that have been properly scrutinized for safety can help you to hone in on the proper use of pelvic floor muscles and strengthen them even more.
These are the ones that I have:
I purchased this set of weights from Amazon because honestly, I had been experiencing the occasional leak with an unexpected sneeze. Knowing that even though I had birthed three children, I still should be able to do better, I decided to search for a safe option to try.
The first time that I used one, I felt a little cocky. I carefully inserted the middleweight ball attached to the remover thing (I don’t know what that white part is called, but go with it), washed my hands, and walked out of the bathroom on my way to do some housework. About 6 steps in, PLOP. It fell out into my underwear! I was like, HOLD UP! Almost as though I had been challenged by this inanimate sphere. I rinsed it, reinserted it, washed my hands, lifted my eyebrows and focused on just walking with it there. Needless to say that it took a few days of practice to keep it in there with active muscle control.
I started at 30 seconds, then 1 minute. I don’t recommend that anyone overuse this type of thing because there is a fine line between gaining control and causing pain or Pelvic Floor muscle spasms. There are instructions in the box that I support.
Close your eyes, kids.
Come THROUGH, STRONGER ORGASMS!
Part of the pleasure achieved from orgasm comes from the involuntary contraction of the vagina, anus and Pelvic Floor muscles. If those muscles are weak, pleasure can be affected. You may also be able to contract the pelvic floor during intercourse which may change your own sensation and be a pleasant surprise for your partner.
Urinary continence, or the ability to hold in your urine, can come from physical strength, but also decreasing bladder spasm. There are two main types of incontinence- Stress incontinence and Urge incontinence. Stress incontinence is when you lose urine in response to a physical action like cough, sneeze, laugh, run, etc. Strengthening the Pelvic Floor can improve that.
Urge incontinence is when you lose urine because the bladder decides to empty right now even though you haven’t given the release command. Have you ever drank a cup of coffee or alcoholic beverage and suddenly had to go to the bathroom? Have you ever been waiting in line at the bathroom and been ready to push granny and toddler out of the way because your bladder is trying to empty and you aren’t ready? That’s an urge issue. Some people have a mix of Stress and Urge incontinence too.
If you think you have an Urge component to bladder leakage, it may be helpful to identify bladder irritants and triggers. Hopkins has compiled a list of common bladder irritants. Some include alcohol, citrus beverages, spicy foods, and artificial sweeteners. The bladder likes water. If you have a day that is particularly difficult from a control standpoint, log what you had to eat or drink to see if you can find your own patterns. Check out this post for more advice about bladder control.
A common mistake that many people make is to avoid water out of fear of leaking. Remember that concentrated urine can also be irritating to the bladder. – Dr. Wendy
Ironically, not drinking water can sometimes make bladder urgency worse. Dilute that urine. Drink your water.
Pelvic floor physical therapy is a type of physical therapy, like the type that you can do for your arm, leg or back, but the therapist is targeting the pelvic floor muscles. Some people do it to improve bladder control, reduce pain with menstrual cycles or intercourse, or improve bowel control.
Specialists perform Pelvic Floor physical therapy, so you have to find a PT location where this is done. It is often covered by insurance and, speaking as someone who has prescribed a lot of Pelvic Floor PT and seen the ladies later, it WORKS.
After you’ve tried Kegels on your own, and possibly weights or PT, go back and see your gynecologist if you still aren’t dry. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. We see it a lot. Some women are candidates for surgery, some need that order for PT, and some just need guided instruction during the exam to help a woman identify where those muscles are.
This issue of incontinence can arise whether or not you have had children. A Urogynecologist is a type of gynecologist who has special training and can even assess the health of your bladder to make sure you are safe from rare issues like bladder cancer. This may be worth asking about if no other tactics are helping you to regain control.