Incontinence: The problem mothers are too ashamed to talk about
One in two first-time Irish mothers has problems controlling their bladder three months after giving birth to a baby, a new study revealed today.
The findings show a high prevalence of urinary incontinence or "leaking urine" in women before, during and after pregnancy.
However, many keep it a secret and are too ashamed to seek help, making the problem "invisible".
More than one in three women leaks urine in early pregnancy, according to the latest results on maternal health from the Irish Longitudinal Study in Trinity College.
Dr Deirdre Daly, Assistant Professor in Midwifery at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, said: "The key message for women is that leaking urine is common, but it is not normal and can be treated.
"Far too many women put up with urinary leakage during and after pregnancy because they think it is 'normal' or 'to be expected'.
"Because of this, the majority of the women in the study had not really talked to anyone about leaking urine."
She pointed out: "The reality is that leaking urine can make some women miserable; while it affects them physically, it can also affect them emotionally and socially and affect the way women interact with their partner. Leaking urine can even make some women stop exercising or be cautious about socialising because they are afraid of leaking and of it being noticed by others.
"Unfortunately, and partly because we have no information on leaking urine in pregnant women or new mothers in Ireland, many women who leak urine think they are alone; this can make women feel isolated, embarrassed and reluctant to talk about it or to seek help."
Routine antenatal care provides a chance for promoting continence in all women but particularly in those with identifiable risk factors.
If they were given advice on effective preventative and curative treatments as a matter of routine, some of these women could become or stay continent, which would have huge benefits for their quality of life.
Lead researcher Prof Cecily Begley said doctors in maternity services never receive feedback on how women who have been in their care for pregnancy and childbirth return to normal health and well-being.
"We hope that this study will bridge that gap and not only make these issues visible, but also, and crucially, provide the information that will help guide, inform and improve practice and care for mothers in the future," she added.
DON'T SUFFER IN SILENCE ADVISES MUM ALMA
ALMA Delany, who gave birth to her son Eamon in June 2012, was shocked when she lost control of her bladder even before leaving hospital.
Alma, from Julianstown, Co Meath, was just given a photocopy of exercises and told she would be back to normal in 12 weeks. "It was as bad as ever in 12 weeks. It was not until the six-month check-up with the public health nurse that I was told it was something I should not have to put up with."
Alma was put on a waiting list by the hospital to see a physiotherapist - a call that never came. She paid for physiotherapy herself and eventually had to have surgery.
"I'm getting back to where I should be. Surgery only takes you to a certain level and I am having more physiotherapy. I only need the pads when I run."
Alma believes many women are too embarrassed to get help and are not treated early enough. "It should be taken more seriously. I would urge women not to put up with it."