Suffering with SUI? It is no laughing matter for mums

Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) is a very common condition, affecting an estimated 30% of women worldwide and, according to the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), almost half of all women experience some form of urinary incontinence after childbirth. The condition can have a significant impact on daily life, relationships and emotional well-being. Two thirds of these women suffering from SUI are undiagnosed.

SUI occurs when physical movement or activity, such as sneezing, coughing, running or heavy lifting, puts pressure on the bladder. Many women who suffer from SUI may feel embarrassed and isolate themselves, especially from exercise and social activities. A recent survey (carried out by Contura) showed that around 9 out of 10 women living with SUI are likely to “put up with” the condition, rather than seeking treatment and advice.

Mr Steve Foley, Consultant Urologist, Royal Berkshire NHS Trust (Reading) discusses common myths and less known facts that every new mum needs to know about SUI:

  1. You won’t develop SUI if you have a c-section delivery – myth – a mother’s risk of developing stress urinary incontinence shortly after the birth of her baby (or in later life) is slightly higher for those who experienced vaginal delivery due to the likely damage to pelvic muscles, nerves and ligaments as the baby is “pushed out”. However, all women (whether they have a natural delivery or a birth via c-section) are at risk of developing SUI due to the pressure exerted on the pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy by the growing weight and position of the baby.


  1. Only “big babies” cause SUI – myth – any new mum may potentially go on to develop SUI, whatever the size of her baby. However, research shows there is an increased risk of SUI if baby is particularly large or mum is very petite. If forceps or suction (ventouse) are required or there is tearing during the delivery, there is an even greater likelihood of postpartum SUI.


  1. Vaginal mesh is the only treatment available for SUI – myth – recently, we have seen a real reduction in women seeking help for incontinence in my surgery since the recent concerns about the use of mesh that has been widely reported in the media. However, there are now increasingly popular and minimally invasive treatments widely available as an alternative to mesh implants and the more traditional surgical procedures. It is also worth remembering that surgical interventions should only be considered if a mother feels she has completed her family. I therefore urge women worried about SUI to speak to their GP about all the options available to them and remember that it’s their choice


  1. Pelvic floor exercises don’t work – myth – Exercising the pelvic floor muscles will improve incontinence in the majority of those who do them consistently and correctly – and these can start (just short, gentle squeezes) 24 after birth. Having an ongoing exercise plan and sticking to it makes a real difference in results. Exercise aides can also help ensure the exercises are done correctly. Specialist physios can cure up to 70% of women meaning they may never have to have further treatment. But, as ever, prevention is better than cure and I urge pregnant women to get into the habit of pelvic floor exercises throughout those 9 months!


  1. Surgical procedures can be minimally invasive – fact – Bulking agents are growing in popularity as a minimally invasive treatment which means no cutting of the patient’s tissue or skin. It’s also carried out in day surgery, often using just a local anaesthetic or mild sedation. They are a safe and effective treatment for stress urinary incontinence which have been used for over 10 years. In my clinic, we use Bulkamid® a water-based gel that helps the bladder neck to close when needed to help prevent bladder leaks and has an 80% success rate when used as a first line treatment.


  1. You’ll be able to get back to day-to-day activities after treatment for SUI, and even use a trampoline fact – Many of my patients have been shocked by how quickly they are able to return to their normal routines after minimally invasive treatments, such as bladder bulking, and have no more leaks when partaking in exercise, sneezing or even using a trampoline with their kids. Most women get back into day-to-day activities that very same day, although we do advise not doing any heavy lifting for 24-hours.