When you gotta go… (tips for dealing with urinary incontinence)

— by Adrienne Wyper


Do you leak when you laugh? Or when you lift something heavy? Does the idea of getting on a trampoline strike terror? Up to one in three women will experience urinary incontinence (UI) at some point. Until recently, this might have been cause for stigma or shame. But attitudes may be changing, as with talking about periods and menopause. The topic is coming out of the (water) closet and being laughed off (careful…). A  couple of years ago, a TV ad for Tena Lights panty liners featured women offhandedly referring to an ‘oops moment’, ie wetting themselves, a little. Although useful in openly discussing the issue, the ad’s implied acceptance of the condition was criticised by experts, such as Elaine Miller, a pelvic physiotherapist, recovered incontinent and award-winning comedian, whose Gusset Grippers show aims to encourage discussion of UI. ‘People think leaking is an inevitable consequence of ageing or parenthood, and that’s just not true,’ says Elaine, ‘The problem is not that women leak, the problem is that they don’t know help is available.’


Types of Urinary Incontinence

• Stress incontinence: Urine leaks when your bladder is under pressure, for example, when you cough or laugh.

• Urge incontinence: (aka overactive bladder) Urine leaks as you feel a sudden, intense urge to pee, or soon afterwards, due to problems with the bladder wall’s muscles.

• Overflow incontinence: You can’t fully empty your bladder, which causes frequent leaking.

• Total incontinence: Your bladder cannot store any urine, meaning you pass urine constantly or leak frequently.


Wondering whether you have UI? Take the NHS’s short questionnaire HERE

If you do have UI, here are some ways to help, and make life easier. If necessary, you can access pelvic health physiotherapy via your GP, or by self-referral in some NHS Trusts.


Do pelvic floor exercises daily

Your pelvic floor is a muscle ‘hammock’ inside the bony circle of your pelvis, which stops your internal organs falling out. You can feel your pelvic floor if you try to stop peeing mid-stream (don’t do this regularly; it’s not good for the bladder) or try to suppress a fart. The technique recommended by the NHS is to sit comfortably and squeeze the muscles 10 to 15 times. Don’t hold your breath or tense your stomach, buttocks or thighs. (Doing them now? Me too!) Next, hold each squeeze for a few seconds. After a few weeks, add more reps, resting between each set. It may take three months to feel the benefit. Everyone benefits from pelvic floor exercises, and they can make sex feel better (and help men with erectile dysfunction). An app can help with reminders and technique. Squeezy, £2.99, has a plan recommended by a pelvic health physiotherapist and is in the NHS Apps Library.


When you gotta go…

Several organisations offer free ‘toilet cards’ to show, to access the nearest toilet quickly and without question. Try Age UK, Urology Foundation or Bladder & Bowel Community.

Be free to pee… like men, because sometimes there’s no loo or blush-sparing bush handy, with a Shewee, an anatomically designed plastic contraption that lets you pee standing up. I got mine in 2009 and can confirm that it pays to practise in the shower.


Pads and pants

Many women use standard panty liners but these may not be absorbent enough, and the synthetic material may cause irritation. Two cotton options are Natracare Dry & Light, £2.79 for 20, or Sanature Pro Vivo pads and panty liners, from £3.99 for 24. You can also use fabric pads and liners designed primarily for periods, such as those from Etsy’s independent makers and sellers.

There’s a current TV ad for truly hideous disposable incontinence knickers that look like they’re made from crepe bandage scribbled with flowers. While throwaway underwear may be useful in certain situations, like travelling, there are much better-looking washable – and more environmentally sustainable – knickers that work out cheaper.

BP3’s comfortable sporty high-waisted knickers feature a lovely scalloped edge. The four-layered gusset which draws moisture in (up to 15ml) and keeps it in, was a lot thinner – and longer – than I’d anticipated.

Like a little lace? Drylife’s washable knickers have lace side panels and can take up to 250ml.

Giggle Knickers has cotton briefs and high-waisted knickers in sizes 4 to 24, from £12.99, with a touch of Spandex and a ‘hi-tech gusset’ to absorb up to 6tsp.

Underwear über-supplier Marks & Spencer has a ‘Confidence’ range. Four styles provide ‘everyday protection for light leaks’ via a three-layer gusset with ‘super-absorbent, anti-odour technology’ in a ‘no-show design’ that looks and feels like normal knickers. £12 each.

Cheeky Wipes has three styles of ‘period and pee-proof pants’, from £6.50.



Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer.



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