Can Vaginal Delivery Lead to Incontinence?
Your Health & Wellbeing

Can Vaginal Delivery Lead to Incontinence?

by lilia fedyanina on Jan 16, 2024

Have you ever thought of the long-term effects of childbirth on urinary incontinence?

 Childbirth is a life-changing event that brings both joy and challenges. Among those challenges are concerns about urinary incontinence, which is a common condition affecting women after delivery. While there is no guarantee that vaginal delivery will lead to incontinence, studies suggest that it is a risk factor. If you're wondering about the long-term effects of childbirth on urinary incontinence, we invite you to read our blog and find answers to your questions

Understanding the link between delivery method and incontinence

The fear of developing incontinence after childbirth is a common one among women.The vast majority of women who give birth do not develop incontinence. In fact, most of the damage caused by childbirth repairs itself over time as the tissues go through the normal healing process. Nonetheless, for some women, the injury does not recover 100% of pre-labor strength, which can lead to the development of incontinence and discomfort of pelvic prolapse later in life.

Can Vaginal Delivery Lead to Incontinence?

According to research, women who gave birth vaginally were more than two and a half times as likely to experience stress urinary incontinence at age 30 than women who gave birth via cesarean section. 

Vaginal delivery and Incontinence

Vaginal delivery is a natural process that puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on a woman's body. During delivery, the pelvic tissues experience much strain, which may lead to damage. The force of the baby's head against the pelvic bone may tear the pelvic ligaments that support the muscles or even damage the muscles themselves.

 Studies have shown that vaginal delivery is associated with an increased risk of stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and urge urinary incontinence (UUI). In fact, compared to cesarean section, vaginal delivery carries almost twice the risk of long-term SUI, with an absolute increase of 8%. This effect tends to be more pronounced in younger women. Additionally, there is an increased risk of UUI, with an absolute increase of approximately 3%. 

Is a C-section the key to preventing incontinence and prolapse?

Childbirth has long been associated with urinary incontinence and pelvic prolapse, two conditions that can significantly affect a woman's quality of life. While cesarean section has been suggested as a potential solution to avoid the stretching and tearing of muscles and nerves that occur during vaginal delivery, the evidence is mixed.

Understanding the Risks of C-section for Prolapse Prevention

While some studies show that cesarean section can decrease the risk of incontinence and prolapse, most women who deliver vaginally remain continent. It is clear that we do not fully understand the factors that determine who develops these conditions or the potential risks associated with cesarean delivery.

Do C-sections Really Protect Against Pelvic Floor Disorders?

Therefore, while cesarean section may be beneficial for some women, it is not necessary for all and should be considered carefully on a case-by-case basis.

The lasting impact of episiotomies on women's health 

Occasionally, doctors may intentionally perform an episiotomy to hasten delivery, which increases the risk of anal incontinence. For some women, the weakened muscles and ligaments do not entirely heal, making them susceptible to incontinence as they age.

Unfortunately, it is challenging to tell if the muscles and nerves have fully returned to their previous condition, as only expensive tests like MRI or nerve conduction studies can confirm this. At present, there is no simple way to gauge this change.

Overcome post-childbirth bladder control issues 

Many women who have gone through childbirth often wonder if it is inevitable that they will experience incontinence after delivery. The answer is not entirely straightforward. Labor and delivery can potentially stretch, strain, and tear the muscles and supporting tissues that hold the uterus, bladder, and rectum in place. If the nerves are also damaged, this can lead to weakened signals that control the muscles. However, the extent of damage and whether or not it leads to incontinence is dependent on the individual.

Key Takeaways:

- Childbirth puts extraordinary pressure on a woman's body and can potentially damage pelvic tissues, muscles, and ligaments

- Vaginal delivery is associated with increased long-term risks of stress and urge urinary incontinence compared to cesarean section

- Cesarean section may decrease incontinence and prolapse risks for some women, but most vaginal deliveries do not result in long-term issues

- Episiotomies increase anal incontinence risk by potentially weakening muscles and ligaments

- While delivery can stretch pelvic tissues, whether it leads to incontinence depends on individual healing and the extent of any nerve damage

- Exercises, physiotherapy, and other treatments can help overcome potential bladder control issues from childbirth

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