Women's voices: Incontinence

Some women in the MAMMI study told us about their experience and perceptions of incontinence during and after pregnancy. Let’s look at the different ways women spoke about incontinence.

Acceptance

Women talked about how they simply

…accepted it [leaking urine], as being part of pregnancy

and used language that minimised the impact of experiencing urinary incontinence:

…it’s only a few drops and I don’t feel it’s serious enough

Lack of understanding

Women spoke about not understanding what urinary incontinence is:

Because I thought urinary incontinence was walking around and wetting yourself – but Deirdre said to me “it’s any type of leakage” – so I didn’t know that, do you know what I mean, nobody knows that, because there’s not enough information out there for people.

Happens in older people

Some women felt that incontinence was something that happened in older people:

…incontinence you just think, well I think of older people.

Maybe I’ve kind of inbuilt myself not to say that I’ve got incontinence – perhaps I do – but I wouldn’t have classified myself because I suppose the stereotype is you hear incontinence you think of - a thing, an older person’s condition.

Negative connotations

Women were hesitant to label themselves as incontinent because of the negative associations:

Oh God the connotations are terrible, aren’t they? Like leaking urine to me sounds better than urinary incontinence.

Urinary incontinence just makes me think of adult nappies, and tena pads, and all sorts of things, so yea. And it also sounds very permanent.

I don’t put that term on it because we always think of incontinence as when you’re older, and you’re in a nursing home and you’re incontinent then – but I know I have stress incontinence, I just don’t use the term as it makes me feel older, and like it’s a bigger problem. They used to say a “leaky old woman”.

It just sounds very kind of, like definite and professional and serious.

Delaying seeking help

These beliefs could delay or prevent women from seeking help from a healthcare professional.

Despite having a health background I hesitate, because I’m kind of going, – to me incontinence is a bigger thing, even though I know the answer to that is “yes” I still don’t see it as that big a problem because I feel in my head I’m going “it’s just, it’s a little leak, it’s a few drops, that’s all I have” so therefore, no, I don’t have incontinence if I don’t lose the contents of my bladder, do you know what I mean’…‘And so even though, as I say, I kind of know the answer to that, still my immediate answer to that would be “no, I don’t”… It’s a definition issue and it’s an admittance as well though!

All of this tells us that there is a lack of information and a stigma around urinary incontinence, which helps to continue the misconception that leaking urine after giving birth is ‘normal’.

Women put up with leaking urine, and many use strategies like using pads, changing their underwear frequently and finding out where toilets are when they go out. Some women stop exercising or change the type and amount of exercise they do and some women even reduce and restrict how much fluids they drink.

Our message is – challenge what you think you know about incontinence, learn to control it and don’t let it control you or the way you live your life.

In the next step, we are going to ask you to think about what you know about incontinence, and bust some common misconceptions in our interactive exercise.

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This article is from the free online course:

Women’s Health After Motherhood

Trinity College Dublin

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