Dealing with a Leaky Bladder: 10 Myths and Facts

Should you limit the amount of water you drink to stop a leaky bladder? Or avoid rigorous exercise? Get the facts.

Leaky Bladder

Myth or Fact?

1. Pregnancy-related urinary incontinence may fade away with time.

Fact: “Some cases of post-pregnancy urinary incontinence do dissipate on their own after a few months, but it’s no guarantee,” says Elizabeth Houser, M.D., an Austin, TX-based urologist. Instead of waiting it out, talk to your doc about starting a Kegel exercise program immediately.

2. If you have bladder problems, it’s wise to avoid rigorous exercise.

Myth: Working out is important for overall health and weight control. And since carrying extra pounds is a risk factor for bladder leaks—and makes symptoms worse—it’s key to keep on sweating! “However, you may want to ease up on running, jumping or high-impact aerobics, which can put extra strain and pressure on the bladder,” says Stephanie Riley Hahn, a certified physical therapist and co-author of the upcoming book What’s Up Down There—A Woman’s Guide to Pelvic Heath (Johns Hopkins University Press).

To help control leaks, Hahn suggests using a tampon before hitting the trails. It acts like a temporary pessary, a diaphragm-like device doc’s prescribe to support the bladder. “Just make it a super-sized tampon,” she says.

3. Wearing a sanitary napkin is fine for bladder-leak protection.

Myth: Menstrual pads aren’t designed for urine, so they won’t do a great job of absorbing it or controlling odor. “And wearing the wrong pad can mean moisture is not wicked away from one of the most sensitive areas of the body, causing rash and irritation,” says Missy Lavender, executive director of the Women’s Health Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating women about pelvic health. Products specifically designed to absorb urine leaks, available at drugstores, are a better bet.

4. If bladder issues are so common during pregnancy and menopause, your doctor would have told you so.

Myth: Not all doctors give their patients a heads-up about potential bladder problems, but that doesn’t mean the issue isn’t real—and rampant. For instance, by 30 weeks, 58 percent of pregnant women experience urinary incontinence, according to a survey of 40,000-plus women published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. “Certainly, more needs to be done to help primary care doctors understand the incidence and prevalence of urinary incontinence,” Lavender says. Until that happens, women need to be their own best advocates.

5. It’s never too late to treat bladder problems.

Fact: “You’re not a lost cause!” Hahn says. But waiting a long time to seek treatment does prolong discomfort and may worsen your problem. Weak pelvic floor muscles, for instance, continue to lose strength if you aren’t actively building them up.

6. A physical therapist (PT) can ease bladder woes.

Fact: Many PTs specialize in helping women with pelvic floor disorders such as muscle weakness, incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. “We’re trained to evaluate the health, flexibility and function of pelvic floor muscles, as well as posture and core strength—and we can address any dysfunctions that exist,” says Hahn, founder of Austin’s first women’s physical therapy health practice. To find a PT near you, go to the American Physical Therapy Association Web page (, click “Find a PT,” then tick off “Women’s Health.”

7. Drinking too much water increases your chances of overactive bladder.

Myth: Many women severely limit their water intake, thinking it’ll help control incontinence. It won’t. In reality, restricting fluids can lead to dehydration and constipation—which can bring about or worsen bladder leaks. It is smart, however, to drink small amounts throughout the day instead of chugging big glasses at once.

8. It’s normal to get up to urinate two or more times a night.

Fact: Urine production often decreases at night, allowing most people to sleep six to eight hours without having to use the bathroom. To help ease the all-night up-and-down, drink as little as possible within four hours of bedtime. And if you’re taking a diuretic for high blood pressure, ask your doctor if another drug might be a better choice at night.

9. A weak bladder is inevitable with age.

Fact: Bladder issues do tend to hit more often in older women, but that doesn’t mean they are a normal and acceptable part of aging. Urinary incontinence, for example, is a medical problem that can be diagnosed and treated no matter your age.

Myth: Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that while bladder and urethral function can decline throughout adult life, your bladder capacity rarely changes.

Yoga for Better Bladder Control

An estimated 10 to 30 percent of older people—mostly women—experience urinary incontinence. A recent study at the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that certain yoga postures may help increase control of pelvic floor muscles, which are involved in bladder control.

The experts at the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter share these two poses for building pelvic floor strength:
  • Chair pose
    1. Inhale and raise your arms above your head, perpendicular to the floor with your palms facing inward.
    2. Exhale and bend your knees. Make your thighs as parallel to the floor as possible.
    3. Hold this pose for 30 seconds to one minute.
  • Reclined cobbler’s pose
    1. Start from a sitting position on the floor.
    2. Bend your knees outward, letting them drop to both sides, and draw your heels toward your pelvis.
    3. Slowly lean back on your elbows and then lower your back to the floor. Let your arms relax at your sides with palms up.
    4. Hold this pose for one to 10 minutes.