During the first week in August, there’s a special message that all Australian mothers should hear about the pressure of their important role. However, this pressure doesn’t relate to achieving work-life balance, wrestling with the household budget, or finding affordable child-care. This special message from the Continence Foundation of Australia is about the pressure of pregnancy and childbirth on the female pelvic floor muscles.
This year, the Foundation’s “Life’s little spills” campaign is raising awareness of bladder and bowel control problems primarily related to childbearing.
“While incontinence affects every age group and males as well as females, it is women who have had a baby who are at the highest risk for incontinence,” says Barry Cahill, CEO of the Continence Foundation.
“This is primarily to do with the pressure of the growing baby and the physical demands of labour and delivery.”
The pelvic floor comprises the muscles and tissue that stretch from the pubic bone at the front to the coccyx (tail-bone) at the back. Stress (pressure) incontinence can result not only in the short-term (prior to and just after childbirth) but can worsen in a woman’s later life. These muscles also play an important role in sexual function and enjoyment. For all these reasons, it is essential for a woman’s quality of life that this “hammock” of muscles is strong and responsive.
Christine Murray is a Continence Nurse Advisor on the National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66). She knows about the importance of pelvic floor muscle strength and its clinical aspects. However, as a woman, she also understands the sensitive emotional issues and the embarrassment of talking about the problem.
“Many of our Helpline callers admit coping with leakage for years. They have put off asking for professional help, thinking that nothing can be done. Perhaps they were too embarrassed to mention the problem to their doctor. These days, there’s a range of strategies that can help and often cure incontinence. There are simple ‘at home’ tips, pelvic floor muscle strengthening under the guidance of a continence physiotherapist, or surgery, for example.”
Ms Murray says that constipation, toilet frequency or urgency and haemorrhoids are all problems that could be linked to incontinence.
“It’s not all about leakage. It’s about weakened muscles that can no longer handle the pressure of increased body weight or the stress of lifting, laughing, sneezing and exercising.”
The Continence Foundation says that continence clinicians understand not only the medical and physical issues, but also the more subtle social and emotional ones.
“It’s never been a better time to get help. These days, there’s so much that can be done. We also want make it clear there’s no such thing as ‘just a small problem’ when it comes to incontinence. Those so-called small problems have a habit of getting bigger,” says the Continence Foundation’s CEO.
“It might take years for problems to worsen to a point where they seriously affect lifestyle, so it’s best to get help early. Having said that, it’s never too late at any age or life-stage to get the good advice that these health problems deserve”, Barry Cahill added.
If you have questions about your bladder or bowel function, call the National Continence Helpline 1800 33 00 66 (freecall). The Helpline is an Australian Government initiative managed by the Continence Foundation of Australia. You can talk to a continence nurse advisor about the many aspects of bladder and bowel control for mothers and children. The Helpline also has information on local services, products, treatment options and funding schemes assistance. Free leaflets covering many aspects of incontinence are available for mailing.
For more information visit the website www.continence.org.au