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Large numbers of women stay silent about incontinence after childbirth

CSP press release published on 20 May 2014

Poll reveals women are too embarrassed to seek help

Many women who develop continence issues following childbirth are suffering in silence because of embarrassment over the taboo condition, a new poll reveals.

One in two women responding to the survey conducted by Netmums for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said they had never spoken to anyone about their problem.

Only 31 per cent said they had spoken to their husband or partner, while just 19 per cent had discussed it with their mother, sister or other close relative.

Six in ten felt the subject was ‘taboo’ and 56 per cent said they felt embarrassed about the problem, with 16 per cent feeling ashamed about it.

Most worryingly of all, three quarters of women said they had never sought help from a health professional for the easily-treatable condition.

The CSP and RCM are launching a joint initiative to prevent and reduce incontinence among women following pregnancy and birth.

Half of women responding to the poll said that they were currently experiencing a problem with leaking urine (49 per cent) following the birth of their baby and just under a third said they used to have the problem (31 per cent).

The project aims to ensure women are made aware of the importance of pelvic health and taught how to exercise and maintain the pelvic floor muscles.  The joint initiative will also raise awareness among other professionals of the need to make quicker referrals for treatment.

Ruth Ten Hove, professional adviser at the CSP, said:

“Continence issues can take a terrible toll on people’s lives, as this survey shows.

“Understandably, people find it a difficult subject to discuss and don’t seek help, which can cause the problem to worsen.

“But it doesn’t need to be this way – physiotherapists are experts in treating the condition and can make a big difference.

“We want the NHS to make it easier to access these services, but we are also working with midwives to help more women avoid developing the problems in the first place.”

Other results from the poll of 1,900 women at, highlighted the impact of incontinence on daily life:

  • Just under half of respondents (45 per cent) leaked urine once a week, while more than a quarter suffered two or three times a week (27 per cent) and a further 10 per cent, several times a day.
  • For many there was no warning that the problem would occur, as 79 per cent of respondents said they experienced leakage of urine when they cough or sneeze and over a third before they could get to a toilet.

The new project will promote awareness of the treatment physiotherapists can provide to tackle the problem in what is often a relatively short amount of time.

But it will also enable midwives to encourage women to begin exercising pelvic floor muscles on a regular basis, as soon as they become pregnant so they prevent the problem developing in the first place.

The pelvic floor muscle exercises are clearly explained in a new leaflet produced by CSP and the RCM along with a video which provides expert advice from a midwife and specialist women’s health physiotherapist, on both prevention and treatment. The video also features an interview with a patient who was successfully treated for incontinence after a referral to a specialist physiotherapist. These resources are free to download at 

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.”

Sally Russell, co-founder of Britain's biggest parenting site Netmums said:

"This is probably the last taboo subject for new mums as it can be very upsetting - but it is so easily treated.

"Women's bodies go through such huge changes during pregnancy and birth so it's no surprise they may not always work perfectly afterwards. However we have to get women to realise there is no need to suffer in silence, as with some gentle treatments, they can restore control and get their lives back."

For further media information about the CSP please call the CSP press office on 020 7306 1111, email Out of hours please call Becca Bryant, head of press and PR (job-share) on 079172 40819, Jennie Edmondson, head of press and PR (job share) on 07786 332197, Jon Ryan, senior media adviser, on 07917 091200 or Laura Boyd, PR and social media officer, on 07766 994141.



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