Researchers from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, Netherlands, studied 344 women, asking them to complete questionnaires when they were 12 and 36 weeks' pregnant and three and 12 months after delivery.
They found that just over 50 per cent of first-time mothers experienced overactive bladder (OAB) symptoms when they were 12 weeks' pregnant. These included 3.5 per cent who had the added problem of incontinence when they needed to empty their bladder urgently
The number suffering OAB and incontinence at 36 weeks increased to 15 per cent, but fell back to 3.5 per cent at three and 12 months after delivery.
A further eight per cent of new mums still had OAB without incontinence at three and 12 months after delivery.
Women with the added problem of incontinence felt it had an adverse effect on their quality of life both during and after pregnancy, with mobility and embarrassment heading their list of concerns. These issues were still present a year after delivery, but at a much lower level.
"The physical reasons why pregnant women experience overactive bladder symptoms is still not clear" says lead author Dr Henriette Van Brummen.
"It is possibly caused by factors such as pressure from the uterus on the bladder, altered urine production and a change in bladder capacity during pregnancy.
"What is clear, however, is the effect that it can have on some women's quality of life. It's an issue that healthcare professionals need to address when they deal with pregnant women and those who have recently delivered, as it can cause real problems and distress, especially when OAB is accompanied by incontinence." All the women who took part in the study were first-time mothers who were pregnant with a single child and in good health. Just under two-thirds (65 per cent) had a normal vaginal delivery, 19 per cent needed some assistance and the remainder had elective or emergency Caesareans.
They were recruited from 10 midwifery practices in the Netherlands.
"There are a number of steps that women can take to control or improve an overactive bladder, including pelvic floor exercises to improve their muscle control" adds Dr Van Brummen.
"Further research is needed to examine the effect of bladder training on OAB symptoms during pregnancy and whether combining behavioural and drug treatment after childbirth will result in better outcomes than either therapy alone."
Further information and press copies of the paper are available from
Annette Whibley, Wizard Communications
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