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#HRB30 Story

Leaking urine before, during and after pregnancy - a hidden problem until now

21 December 2016

HRB-funded research at Trinity College Dublin has found that women who experienced bedwetting as a child, and women who were obese were more likely to leak urine before their first pregnancy.

Women who were overweight, aged 35 years and over, and women who leaked urine before pregnancy were all more likely to leak urine during pregnancy.

Three months after giving birth, half of first-time mothers leak urine. At six months, women who leaked urine during pregnancy, women who were obese and women who were underweight were more likely to leak urine.

The key message is that leaking urine, while common, is not normal and is easily prevented or treated. The research led to a new set of videos to help women to do specific exercises to prevent and treat leaking urine.

Trinity College Dublin, lead researcher Dr Deirdre Daly

The problem

During pregnancy and after giving birth, some women leak urine occasionally, especially when laughing, coughing, picking something up or during exercise. Up to now we have had little formal data on how commonly this happens to women in Ireland, nor have we known who is more or less likely to leak urine.

The project

As part of the MAMMI Study [http://www. mammi.ie/], the research team surveyed more than 2,100 women, all first-time mothers, who were attending maternity hospitals in Ireland. Women answered questions about their health and health problems, including leaking urine, leaking stools (bowel motions), pain, sexual health issues, anxiety, depression, relationship issues and intimate partner violence. The study is ongoing.

The outcomes

We now know that: 

  • even before pregnancy 1 in 3 women leak urine occasionally and 1 in 12 leak urine once a month or more often.
  • in early pregnancy, more than 1 in 3 women leak urine during pregnancy.
  • 1 in 2 women leaked some amount of urine during the three months after giving birth.

Women who leaked urine during pregnancy, women who were obese and women who were underweight were more likely to leak urine at six months after the birth. With physiotherapists in the Rotunda Hospital, the researchers developed short self-help videos [http://www.mammi.ie/ videos.php] to raise awareness about leaking urine and how to do exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor to prevent and treat leaking urine.

Dr Deirdre Daly says:

'Until now, leaking urine, what healthcare professionals call urinary incontinence, has been something of a hidden issue and perhaps women feel it is just happening to them. But now we have the data to show that it happens to many women before, during and after pregnancy. Our research will also help us to identify the women who are more likely to experience it. This study should encourage all maternity healthcare professionals, including GPs and public health nurses (PHNs) to ask women whether they are leaking urine, and we are providing easy-to-access information to women to help prevent and address it'.

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