Pregnancy Information Complications Urinary Bladder Incontinence

Bladder control problems are common during pregnancy. Pregnancy and vaginal deliveries may cause urinary incontinence in women both during and after the pregnancy. Indeed, some women do not develop urinary incontinence until years after the pregnancy. Both pregnancy and labor may cause damage to the muscles and nerves that control the bladder.

Rates of Urinary Incontinence in Pregnant Women

How common are bladder control problems in women during pregnancy? Some studies indicate that twenty to 67 percent of women experience some degree of bladder control difficulty during pregnancy. Bladder control problems during pregnancy can range from occasional leakage to full-blown urinary incontinence.

Causes of Bladder Control Problems during Pregnancy

A number of events increase the risk of urinary incontinence during pregnancy. Pregnancy places pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, which are important for proper bladder control. If the pelvic floor muscles weaken, women may experience urinary incontinence.

As the uterus expands during pregnancy, the bladder and urethra are pushed out of their normal positions. This may also affect bladder control, especially when the growing uterus presses on the bladder.

Pregnancy complications and birth trauma may damage the nerves responsible for bladder control in women. Medical interventions such as episiotomies and forceps deliveries can also damage women’s bladders or urethras, causing urinary incontinence.

Urinary Incontinence and Bladder Problems after Pregnancy

In many cases, urinary incontinence resolves itself after pregnancy. If bladder control difficulties continue after pregnancy, women may find that their pelvic muscles just need some recovery time.

Women should inform their doctors if bladder control difficulties continue after pregnancy, but urinary incontinence is often considered normal in the weeks after birth. If women continue to experience bladder control difficulties six weeks after pregnancy, treatment for urinary incontinence may be required.

Women may experience the effects of pregnancy-related urinary incontinence years after the actual pregnancy. Women in their forties or fifties may develop urinary incontinence that is traced back to pregnancy trauma.

Damage to bladder control nerves or the pelvic wall during pregnancy may not be immediately apparent. However, over time, the original damage slowly progresses, until women develop bladder control problems.

Preventing Pregnancy-Related Bladder Control Problems

A study in Norway indicates that proper pelvic floor muscle exercises during pregnancy may help prevent bladder control problems during and after pregnancy. The study followed two groups of women throughout pregnancy. One group was taught how to perform proper Kegel exercises throughout and after pregnancy. The second group of women was the control group.

Kegel exercises are used to maintain pelvic floor muscle strength during pregnancy. In the study, 32 percent of the women practicing pelvic floor muscle exercises reported urinary incontinence 36 weeks into the pregnancy, compared to 48 percent of the women in the control group.

Three months after the end of pregnancy, only twenty percent of the women using pelvic muscle exercises reported urinary incontinence, as opposed to thirty percent of the control women. While more studies into the effects of pelvic floor exercises on pregnancy and bladder control are required, the study suggests that women may be able to minimize the effects of pregnancy on bladder control.


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2003). Pelvic exercises reduce likelihood of incontinence during and after pregnancy.

Beers, M. H.,