What's My Alternative: Urinary Incontinence

By Gina Roberts-Grey

After giving birth to her first child, Dawn Kramer, 42, of Crystal Lake, Illinois, lived with mild to moderate urinary incontinence for 10 years. “I thought having a little leakage when I laughed or coughed was just a result of becoming a mom,” Kramer says. And for many new moms it is; 50 percent of women who’ve been pregnant develop urinary incontinence, regardless of whether they had a C-section or vaginal birth. But not only moms are affected.

“If the pelvic muscles are stressed by pregnancy, injury, or aging,” says urologist Robert Simon, MD, “the bladder and urethra are no longer held in place and aren’t able to function normally and prevent urine from being expelled involuntarily.”

The Conventional RX: Kramer’s doctor suggested prescription medications to relax the bladder and decrease its sensitivity. But the long list of potential side effects, such as constipation, dry mouth, and nervousness—and the notion of taking medicine for the rest of her life—inspired Kramer to seek other options.

The Alternative RXs: Kramer went to a physical therapist trained in pelvic floor exercises, which strengthen the muscles surrounding the bladder and urethra. The exercises, the most famous of which are Kegels, involve repeatedly contracting and relaxing the same pelvic muscles used to stop peeing midstream. Research has shown that the exercises substantially improve, if not cure, mild to moderate incontinence.

Another good pelvic toner is yoga. Try baddha konasana, which can strengthen your bladder. With a straight and lifted back, place the soles of your feet together. Hold the tops of your feet or place your hands on the floor behind your back and draw your heels into your pelvic bone. Stay in this position for at least 30 seconds, breathing normally. To come out of the pose, relax your arms and bring your knees up one at a time.

The Outcome: For the first time in more than a decade, Kramer can share a joke and laugh with her friends and family, without worrying that it might send her running to the bathroom. “I used to suppress laughing in public,” she says. “Now I can just be me.