When Faith Tan peed on herself and wet the entire floor shortly after the birth of her daughter, she brushed off the incontinence as a one-time embarrassment.
After all, she had a hard time pushing her third baby out.
“I didn’t take it seriously, so I left the hospital without telling my doctor about it,” says the 40-year-old administrator. She delivered three kids by vaginal birth.
But that was not a once-off. Faith never quite regained control of her bladder.
Wetting herself at least five to six times each day became the new norm.
Within a week of giving birth, adult diapers had become her postpartum essential. Not even the thickest and most absorbent maternity pads could keep up with her massive urine leakage.
“In a sitting position, I was fine. But when I stood up, everything simply flowed out. It was very embarrassing because my new helper and the kids saw what happened,” says Faith.
On a regular day, she had to change her adult diapers at least twice.
To avoid wetting herself so frequently, Faith made a toilet trip every half an hour. She also tried restricting her water intake.
“The problem worsened every time I drank something. But it was impossible to stop myself from drinking water because I was constantly thirsty from breastfeeding,” she adds.
She would also leak urine whenever she laughed or coughed.
Along with the awful realisation that she could no longer control her bladder, Faith also developed urinary tract infection and severe piles, both at the same time.
The latter landed her in the emergency department two weeks after childbirth, while the infection probably came about because she was in adult diapers all day, she shares.
“The pain from the piles was terrible, but I didn’t want to be admitted because that would affect my breastfeeding,” she recalls. “Thankfully, the doctors gave me medication and I was able to avoid being hospitalised.”
By the third week, an exhausted Faith felt postnatal blues creep up on her.
“Imagine going through all those three conditions within a month during your confinement. I didn’t rest at all, and felt so down and lost because I didn’t know what to do,” she says.
In a desperate bid to solve her leaky conundrum, she booked an appointment to see her gynae, who recommended strengthening her pelvic muscles with Kegel exercises.
Apparently, what she was going through was “pretty normal” for a third-time mum, according to her doctor.
Those words, however, were hardly reassuring to Faith.
“I was so scared. How long would it take for me to regain control of my bladder again?” she says.
Kegel exercises every day
Until then, she had never done such exercises. Neither had she adhered to traditional confinement practices when she had her first two kids.
“My second child was born premature at 28 weeks, so I didn’t have the chance to do a proper confinement.
“Now that I’m an older mum, I had planned to rest well. But I ended up having all these issues!” she says.
The incident spurred her to take better care of herself. She did Kegels every day without fail, and took traditional herbs said to help strengthen her pelvic area. She also learnt to sit back and let other people help care for her newborn.
“I think my husband felt really bad for me and tried to be more hands-on with the baby. For example, he and the helper would take turns to carry the baby so that I did not put extra pressure on my bladder. I’d only hold the baby when I was seated,” Faith says.
True to her gynae’s words, her urinary incontinence tapered off by the time her little one was two months old.
Having seen results for herself, Faith is now an advocate of pelvic floor exercises for women.
“If I had strengthened my lax pelvic muscles before my third kid, my urinary incontinence might not have been so bad,” she says.
“My advice is not to wait until you have had your second or third baby to do pelvic floor exercises. Do them right now.”
A new option for women with incontinence is BTL Emsella treatments, which use electromagnetic pulses to stimulate supramaximal muscle contractions. A single session is said to be comparable to 11,000 Kegel exercises, and patients don’t have to remove their clothing during a session or refrain from sex afterwards.
Yeo Seow Min, in her 50s, underwent the treatment with dermatologist Dr Eileen Tan after suffering from incontinence since her 30s after the birth of her first child.
The mother of three kids aged 14 to 21 recounts: “I think I must have had urinary incontinence in my 30s after the birth of my first child. I have always leaked urine when I sneezed or coughed and for many years I wore panty liners to avoid staining my panties.
“On bad days, I even wore adult mini pads. I often had to get up in the middle of the night to relieve myself. Even when I was emptying my bladder as often as I could to avoid accidents — like before boarding a flight or watching a movie — at times, I wished that I could hold my bladder until it was more convenient to do so.”
After five treatments, Seow Min says her incontinence has improved.
“I felt the positive effects after the second or third treatment. I no longer need to get up in the middle of the night to relief myself and am able to sleep well into the night without interruptions.
“These days I often feel confident going out without wearing a panty liner as I am confident that I will not accidentally stain my panties. I also don’t feel the need to empty my bladder even if it is not feeling particularly full, which is what I used to do.”