After experiencing an increased need to pee during pregnancy, many of us look forward to our bodies returning to relative normality post birth. But according to latest figures, around 1 in 3 women still experience urinary incontinence 3 months after pregnancy, and around 1 in 12 women report symptoms of prolapse in the pelvic region.
These often-distressing problems are still often taboo, meaning many women suffer in silence due to embarrassment or in the belief it’s just ‘normal’ post-birth. But why are bladder problems after baby so common? And are there things you can do to help yourself?
We’ve partnered with Viridian Nutrition’s Senior Nutritionist, Corin Sadler, DipION, FDSc, to get to the bottom of things. Formulated by expert nutritionists with clean formulations and 100% active ingredients, Viridian’s supplements work with your body for powerful support.
Why you might experience bladder problems after baby
During pregnancy the need to pee more often increases as the growing uterus begins to take up more space and presses on the bladder. Throughout pregnancy the hormone progesterone is increased, relaxing ligaments and joints, necessary for accommodating the growing baby and facilitating childbirth. Muscles of the pelvic floor and bladder wall however are also influenced by progesterone’s relaxing effects.
Once the baby is born, levels of progesterone drop and these relaxing effects on the musculoskeletal system begin to decline, but overstretched muscles can struggle to return to their original state. This can cause postnatal incontinence or leaking. Pelvic floor exercises can be key before birth to help prevent problems but are still vital to help recovery once tears and caesarean scars are healed. Be guided here by your practitioner, especially if you have had a particularly traumatic delivery.
For extra support, there are several herbs and natural extracts that can be really beneficial to take.
Natural support for post-natal bladder problems
The herb Angelica archangelica is excellent during the postpartum period. This majestic and architectural plant has a long history of use in traditional medicine.
Used historically for its effects on the gut, immune system and reproductive health, herbalists use it for its toning and astringent or tightening properties. Studies demonstrate its benefits in reducing the need to get up and pee during the night by increasing the capacity of the bladder to hold urine. These effects are linked to its flavonoid content, especially isoquercetin.
Another perhaps more familiar botanical is the humble pumpkin seed. Pumpkin seed extract demonstrates beneficial effects on incontinence caused by an overactive bladder by relaxing the bladder wall muscle so that it can hold more volume of urine. Women with overactive bladder taking pumpkin seed extract for 12 weeks showed a reduction in urinary urgency and night-time peeing.
Similar effects were demonstrated in women with stress urinary incontinence. It may also improve pelvic floor strength, especially in those women with a history of PCOS where there is a raised level of androgens, as pumpkin seed extract has been shown to have anti-androgenic activity.
Urinary tract infections after birth
In addition to urinary urgency or leaking, women can often be prone to urinary tract infection (UTI) or cystitis during pregnancy due to hormonal changes, which can continue after birth.
Incomplete bladder emptying or urine retention or stasis, where flow is reduced can also occur after birth and can encourage growth of pathogenic bacteria which cause urinary tract infections.
Escherichia coli or E. coli is a common cause of urinary tract infections and leads to cloudy, smelly urine, an intense need to pee or burning sensation whilst peeing, tiredness, pain, or pressure in the lower abdomen and sometimes fever.
Cranberries have a strong affinity for the urinary tract and are often used to help prevent and deal with infection. Cranberries interfere with E.coli’s ability to adhere to the bladder lining whilst also keeping other infection-causing bacteria in check. Some studies also suggest it may beneficially lower the pH of the urine, which also helps to inhibit bacteria growth. Studies show the proanthocyanins found naturally in cranberry are responsible for these effects. Cranberry extract can be a much better way to harness these beneficial effects as cranberry drinks are often loaded with sugar which encourages the growth of pathogenic bacteria.
Cranberry extract is excellent in combination with D-mannose, a monosaccharide naturally produced by the body during metabolism – but when taken as a supplement enhances production and activity of Tamm-Horsfall protein, an anti-bacterial substance produced by the kidneys.
Like cranberry, it also helps to inhibit pathogenic bacteria from adhering to the bladder walls and causing infection. In studies, eradication of urinary infection with D-mannose is as high as 85-90%, and many trials show its ability to reduce symptom intensity and risk of recurrent infection.
Top tips for a healthy urinary system, postpartum
My additional top tips to help ensure a healthy urinary system:
- Stay hydrated – this keeps a good flow of urine, helping to wash out any bacteria present
- Take a wee after intercourse – to help flush any bacteria encountered out of the urinary tract
- Wipe front to back – key to helping prevent bacteria from the bowel from entering the urinary tract
- Avoid caffeine and spicy foods – these irritate the delicate lining of the urinary system
- Cut out sugary foods and drinks – these encourage pathogenic bacteria to flourish but also evidence suggests that poor blood glucose control or those with diabetes are at increased risk of developing a urinary infection
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding always check with your healthcare provider before taking food supplements.
Ready to give your bladder some support? If you would like to learn more about botanical and live bacteria food supplements for any of these issues head over to Viridian Nutrition where you can browse their extensive range, read articles, and get in touch with their team of qualified nutritionists for personalised advice and recommendations.
Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication.