Millions of women are too embarrassed to ask for help with incontinence after they’ve given birth, the results of a new survey suggest.
Three out of five of the women polled for the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said they considered the subject to be taboo.
More than half (56%) said the problem embarrassed them, while 16% said it made them feel ashamed.
“Pregnancy is an ideal time when midwives can be proactive in discussing incontinence prevention”
Half admitted they had never talked to anyone about their incontinence and, despite the condition being easily treatable, some 75% said they hadn’t asked for help from a health professional.
The website Netmums carried out the research for the RCM and CSP between December 2013 and January 2014. The survey included 1,900 women.
Just under half of respondents, 45%, leaked urine once a week, while 27% suffered two or three times a week and a further 10% several times a day.
For many there was no warning that the problem would occur, as 79% of respondents said they experienced leakage of urine when they cough or sneeze and over a third before they could get to a toilet.
Now, the two organisations have launched an initiative to prevent incontinence after pregnancy and childbirth.
It aims to ensure that women who need it get speedy treatment, ensuring that more expensive procedures like surgery become unnecessary.
A new leaflet and video explains the value of pelvic floor exercises as well as other ways to prevent and treat incontinence during pregnancy and after childbirth. Both can be found on the CSP’s website, along with a briefing outlining how physiotherapy can treat urinary incontinence
The initiative is also seeking to get doctors, health visitors and nurses to actively promote the advice and ensure that those who are having problems get a speedy referral.
CSP professional adviser Ruth ten Hove said the condition had left many women suffering in misery for years as they were too embarrassed to seek help.
She said failing to seek help can make the problem worse but added that treatment could make a huge difference.
While the society was working with midwives to help stop the condition from developing in the first place it also wanted services to be more easily accessible to women, she added.
Jacque Gerrard, RCM director for England said: “For women with incontinence their whole day is planned around being able to stay close to a toilet and without help these problems will only continue to get worse.
“During pregnancy women are generally more receptive to health messages so this is an ideal time when midwives can be proactive in discussing prevention.”