Specialist Nurse and Service Manager, Bladder & Bowel UK
Recent guidance from the Royal College of Nursing suggests that bladder and bowel care in childbirth and beyond should be high on healthcare professionals’ agenda.
Research shows that one in three women experience urinary incontinence in the first year after having a baby and up to three quarters of these continue to experience this 12 years after giving birth. A further one in 10 women develop bowel incontinence and another one in 12 develops pelvic organ prolapse.
Healthcare professionals should be able to open conversations sensitively, enquire about and knowledgably explore bladder and bowel symptoms, enabling women to access the right treatment and management.
The draft guidance encourages women to exercise their pelvic floor muscles throughout life to help prevent pelvic floor dysfunction.
Improving access to care
Some areas still lack NHS provision. However, the NHS Long Term Plan is committed to improve prevention, identification and treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction, so pregnant women and new mothers will receive preventative care and treatment for incontinence and pelvic floor issues.
New NHS pelvic health clinics will be established at pilot sites with plans, following initial trials, for services to be expanded and made available across the country by March 2024.
Additionally, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) are working to produce guidance on the prevention, assessment and management of pelvic floor dysfunction with publication due in December.
The draft guidance encourages women to exercise their pelvic floor muscles throughout life to help prevent pelvic floor dysfunction. Programmes should be supervised by a qualified healthcare professional, who can tailor exercises to the individual and monitor progress.
Speak to your healthcare professional
Many women who contact Bladder & Bowel UK helpline services have not discussed their continence issue with anyone, often because of embarrassment or not knowing where to seek help. We encourage them to speak to their healthcare professional as most bladder and bowel issues are treatable.
We all need to be able to talk more openly about our bladder and bowel, to understand what is normal, how to prevent issues and importantly, what to do if we have concerns. Women should be encouraged to seek early help for bladder and bowel symptoms. They should not put up with or self-manage any issues that arise.