Muscle Training Relieves Incontinence After Childbirth

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 17, 2001 -- Childbirth is generally felt to be part of the natural cycle of life, but many women are left with troubling medical problems, including the inability to control their urine or even their bowel movements.

As many as a third of women suffer from urinary incontinence following vaginal childbirth, according to researchers in the Sept. 15 issue of the British Medical Journal. In addition, about 4% of these women also have some loss of control over their bowel movements.

During childbirth, muscles that help support the urinary bladder and rectum may be damaged. Doing what's known as Kegel exercises is often used to help treat these women.

Kegel exercises consist of tightening the muscles surrounding the urinary passage and vagina for three to six seconds and then relaxing them. Women should increase the frequency until they are performing up to 50 Kegel exercises every day. If performing these exercises is difficult, there are devices that can help train the muscles.

Previous studies regarding the success of Kegel exercises in treating incontinence have been conflicting, but in the current study, researchers wanted to determine if women who continued to stick to the exercises could effectively halt their incontinence.

Among over 700 women with urinary incontinence following childbirth, they found that women who performed the exercises starting three months after delivery were much less likely to still be incontinent nine months later. The researchers also found that fewer of these women who performed Kegel exercises had fecal incontinence as well.

Kegel exercises appear to be effective in stopping incontinence at least in some women following childbirth, and the next step, researchers say, is to decide which women would benefit the most.

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