Giving birth vaginally can increase the chance of developing urinary incontinence. It is a common side effect of giving birth and will usually resolve with time as the body heals.

Urinary incontinence is when a person unintentionally passes urine. According to a 2019 study, approximately one-third of people experience urinary incontinence between the second trimester of pregnancy through the first 3 months after childbirth.

This article discusses the symptoms, risk factors, treatment, and prevention of postpartum incontinence.

A person who may have urinary incontinence holding a newborn child.Share on Pinterest
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Incontinence affects twice as many females as males. The Office on Women’s Health suggests that this may be because the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause may cause urinary continence.

Pelvic floor muscles support the bladder. During pregnancy and after birth, hormonal and anatomical changes occur, and the strength of the pelvic floor muscles decreases.

Some people can damage their pelvic floor muscles in the process of giving birth. The nerves that control the bladder can also become damaged during childbirth, especially during a vaginal delivery.

Postpartum incontinence is when a person experiences an inability to control their bladder. This may begin during pregnancy but occurs more often after a person has given birth.

There are two main types of urinary incontinence that affect females — stress and urge incontinence.

Stress incontinence occurs when stress or pressure affects the bladder. Weakened pelvic floor muscles put pressure on the bladder and urethra. Sneezing, laughing, or coughing can cause urine to leak.

Urge incontinence is also called overactive bladder. The urine leakage occurs after a strong urge to urinate but before a person can reach a restroom.

A person with urinary incontinence can experience both types, which is called mixed incontinence.

People with urinary incontinence will leak urine unintentionally. Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • spasms and pressure in the pelvic area
  • urinating while sleeping
  • going to the bathroom more than eight times a day or more than twice per night

Urine leakage due to stress incontinence can occur as a result of the following activities:

  • exercising
  • laughing
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • lifting something heavy
  • standing up
  • bending over

The strenuousness of the activities that cause leakages will vary depending on the severity of incontinence.

The symptoms of an overactive bladder may include leaking urine and a sudden or uncontrollable urge to urinate.

According to Australia’s Department of Health, people may be more likely to experience postpartum urinary incontinence if they:

  • already have incontinence before they give birth
  • develop bladder issues while pregnant
  • experience a long labor
  • are having their first baby
  • are expecting a baby with a high birth weight
  • experience difficulties during delivery, such as requiring stitches, tearing, or needing forceps

Research from 2021 notes that vaginal delivery is the major risk factor for developing stress incontinence.

People who have a cesarean delivery may have a slightly reduced risk of developing stress urinary incontinence compared with those who deliver vaginally.

People can try various lifestyle and medical treatments to manage urinary incontinence.

Absorbent pads

A person may need to use absorbent pads in their underwear or use special underwear designed to capture any leaks.

These can range from small panty liners to adult diapers, depending on the heaviness of the leakages. They may be reusable or single use only.

They discreetly absorb urine and prevent it from soaking through a person’s clothes regardless of type.

Performing pelvic floor muscle exercises

Also known as Kegel exercises, pelvic floor muscle exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.

Depending on the delivery, people should speak with a midwife or healthcare professional about the best time to begin Kegel exercises after birth.


One treatment approach involves inserting a device called a pessary into the vagina to support the urethra and prevent leakages.

Custom-made pessaries are available, or a person can purchase one over the counter. Some pessaries are single-use disposable devices, whereas others are suitable for longer term use.

Most of the time, if labor and delivery have caused a person to develop urinary incontinence, it will resolve itself after the muscles have been able to heal.

People should speak with their doctor, nurse, or midwife if the urinary incontinence continues for longer than 6 weeks after childbirth or if they have specific concerns.

For some people, the pelvic floor will never fully recover. However, by discussing the problem with a healthcare professional, an individual can minimize the risk of urinary incontinence becoming permanent.

According to a 2016 longitudinal study involving 3,763 people, urinary incontinence persisted for 12 years after birth in three-quarters of females.

A person can take steps to minimize their risk of developing long-term urinary incontinence after they give birth. These include:

  • Maintaining a moderate weight: According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), obesity may also be linked to incontinence. Therefore, people may be able to reduce their risk of incontinence by losing excess body weight.
  • Performing Kegels: People can start these exercises even before they become pregnant. A 2020 review notes that structured pelvic floor muscle training can help prevent the onset of urinary incontinence after childbirth and during late pregnancy.
  • Maintaining healthy bowel movements: Constipation can place pressure on the bladder and urethra, which can cause urinary incontinence. People should ensure that they eat plenty of foods containing fiber to prevent constipation.

A small amount of urinary incontinence is common while a person is pregnant, and this can last for a few weeks after childbirth without being a cause for concern. People should speak with a doctor, midwife, or nurse if they are concerned or if it continues 6 weeks after birth.

It is also essential to seek advice if urinary incontinence affects a person’s quality of life or mental well-being. Healthcare professionals can help a person develop a treatment plan to reduce the symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Urinary incontinence after pregnancy is common after birth, affecting approximately one-third of people between the second trimester of pregnancy and 3 months after the birth.

It typically occurs due to hormonal and anatomical changes during pregnancy and childbirth.

Urinary incontinence will usually resolve after the body has recovered from childbirth, but in some cases, it may last longer. However, a person should contact a medical professional if it persists for 6 weeks after childbirth or if they have specific concerns.