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Why we really need to be more open about bladder weakness

Cathy Farmer, 43, shares how incontinence impacted every part of her life


Woman clutching her abdomen in jazzy trousers© Getty
January 22, 2024
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When I had my first daughter, I had a totally "normal" pregnancy and recovery, so when my second daughter was born I planned to return to work soon after, thinking everything would be fine. It wasn't.

Physically, the experience of having a second baby was completely different from the first and I was left with incontinence issues that I wasn't expecting.

My job is centred around meeting people, so I immediately needed to travel and I realised on my first journey to work that I was slowly wetting myself. I was fine when I was sitting down all day at home, but the minute I started walking, I’d panic. I’d worry it was noticeable and wanted to get to a bathroom quickly to check nobody could see.

Selfie of a brunette woman
Cathy Farmer struggled with incontinence after giving birth to her second child

Journeys which normally I would be happy to do were no longer easy. I found I couldn't be away from a toilet for more than 30 minutes because I was leaking the whole way. I wasn't alone in my bladder weakness -  Bupa's wellbeing index showed that 58% of women experience urinary incontinence - but I certainly felt isolated. 

When it comes to going back to work after maternity leave, there's a pressure to not let your baby get in the way of your job. You return to work aware that you've had a year off and you're fighting to keep up, so you don't want to bring your baby into everything or be seen as 'just a new mum.'

I was reluctant to admit I was having issues and tried minimise it as much as I could.

You're not alone

I remember thinking I was alone in my incontinence, and I had to keep quiet about it. But I want other women to know they're not alone. I don't think I've met another mum who hasn't had the same experience.

Group of mature women doing Yoga outdoors in France together while on a wellness vacation. They are all standing holding their mats ready to get started. The yoga instructor is giving advice on the exercises they will be doing.© Getty
Many women have pelvic floor issues

Many of us chat about bladder weakness amongst ourselves secretly, but we never talk more widely, and I think if people were a little bit more open, we could tackle the taboo.

It's expected that you go straight back to normal after having a baby, but until you share what you're going through you don't realise how common postnatal incontinence is.

 READ: Try this super-fun exercise to strengthen your pelvic floor – it's not a Kegel, I promise 

Daily impact

People need to realise the impact incontinence has on day-to-day life. Incontinence adverts suggest women want to leap up and down at gigs, or run a marathon, but I'd just like to be able to walk down the high street without leaking.

Young woman in pain© Getty
Bladder weakness impacts us in daily life

Advice for others

Practical precautions are key – I'd recommend wearing dark trousers if you think you might leak, as it takes away one worry.

Talk to your friends, because I'm sure nine out of 10 will say them they have the same issue. There's strength in numbers and being able to talk about it makes such a difference.

DISCOVER: Why are women expected to stop having fun in our thirties? 

Dr Samantha Wild, Clinical Lead for Women’s Health at Bupa UK, agrees, adding: "There is a perceived stigma around women’s health, which is why we feel so ashamed when these things happen. But speaking about experiences, whether with friends, family or a partner, can help to break the taboo and normalise.

“However, when these issues begin to impact day-to-day life, such as going to work, exercising or socialising, and lead to mental health concerns, it’s important to speak to a doctor who will be able to look into whether these symptoms are normal or need further investigation and guide you through a treatment plan.”

 Find out more about how Bupa is supporting women’s health initiatives.

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