Bladder control issues and childbirth may not be directly related, as previously believed.
For a long time physicians believed (and some still do!) that childbirth was responsible for weakening the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder and ultimately led women to experience bladder control issues later in life.
However, a groundbreaking study published in 2002 challenged that assumption. The study looked at a group of nuns who had never given birth and determined that the rate of bladder control issues among this group was similar to that among the women who had given birth via vaginal delivery.
The study looked at 149 nuns whose average age was 68 and determined that 50% of them were experiencing bladder control issues, a rate which is comparable to women in the same age group who have given birth. “What we found was pretty much against common belief,” shared Dr. Gunhilde Buchsbaum of the University of Rochester, New York, who conducted the study.
Occasional stress-related urine leakage, which occurs when coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercise, was found in 30% of the nuns. Losing control of urine, or not being able to make it to the bathroom on time, occasional urinary urgency, occurred in 24% of the nuns. In addition, some nuns had both occasional urinary urgency and stress-related urine leakage.
The nuns also reported that bladder control issues had a significant effect on their lives, with about half wearing pads to protect from leakage. Other nuns reported not sleeping through the night or being unable to take long trips. For some, bladder control issues were so disruptive that they could not even go to church, which, as you might imagine, and Buchsbaum commented, “that’s a big deal for a nun.”
The researchers believe that because most women do give birth, connecting childbirth with later life bladder control issues was a logical assumption in the early stage of research. But while the study doesn’t disprove that there could be some connection, the findings, according to Dr. Buchsmaum, “seriously put into question that childbirth is the major factor for the development of bladder control issues later in life.”