What do you do if you worry about bladder leaks when running? Or at the gym, your exercise class, or playing with your children ?? Mums I meet in clinic tell me that they are avoiding events that require them to look “sporty”. They worry about a VPL if they wear normal figure hugging gym kit. They don’t want to stand out in a baggy tracksuit trying to hide a pair of substantive knickers with a pad. Heaven forbid a party or wedding?
I’m an experienced women’s physio so I know pads aren’t (and don’t need to be) the solution but they could be a vital part of your journey out of the Miserable Place.
Tips to manage bladder leaks when running or active:
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#1. Use a pad designed for bladder leakage not menstruation
Sanitary pads and incontinence pads are not made of the same thing.
The products designed to be used for menstruation are great for that purpose but do not to cope well with liquid. As they are predominantly cottonwool based, if they get wet, they just go soggy and mis-shapen. If you are moving about they can get scrunched up, rub and leave your skin in contact with urine causing chafing and soreness.
The right pads for the task are worth the little bit of extra cost. With the advent of new technology you will be amazed how slim a proper bladder leakage pad can be to hold a large amount of liquid. They also use fabrics that can wick fluid away from the surface. This keeps damp away from your skin and reduces your worries about odour.
what to look for in the shops
The products are usually in the same ‘feminine hygiene’ aisle (or website section of an online store) but separated into one column of shelves for products for periods and one for bladder leakage.
In general, pads for ‘lighter’ bladder leakage look and feel like pantyliners and come in boxes to keep them flat and compact. This makes a good starting point if you are looking for something to keep you confident and safe against a small leak.
but if you need more than a light pad
If you suffer with more severe leakage and could potentially empty half your bladder, or would risk getting wet clothes, then look at the pads in bags which will be more absorbent. However, if you are getting that wet when you play sport your priority should be to solve the bladder problem further. Talk to your physio about what they recommend.
#2 MODERN waterproof knickers
Forget dated images of plastic pants, which rustle and sweat. The modern waterproof knicker is a far more sophisticated item!
Annabel Croft, the tennis player and TV presenter Carole Smillie (Strictly 2013!) invented these knickers. She originally thought of the concept for her teenage daughters coping with their periods. Now they are marketed for periods, postnatal and pelvic floor.
They look exactly like the classic cotton “girls pants” we’ve all worn in our day. Complete with little middle bow! But with a discreet waterproof panel back and front, which just feels like thicker cotton and importantly doesn’t rustle. They are designed to be worn with a pad but should give you the confidence to keep a pad thinner and lighter or to reduce your anxiety that your pad might overfill.
Available in a selection of colours including nude, spots, grey marl and black lace.
#3 Knickers with inbuilt protection
We are so lucky to be in the era of textile research and design and I am delighted to see this being applied to underwear.
Good for the environment. Great if you are usually fine but like to know you have back up. Possibly more discreet if you need a thicker pad than a liner.
Disadvantage – once they are wet you need to change the whole knicker. However, ideal for things like the gym – if you get bladder leaks when running on the treadmill or other higher impact classes. Strip off in the changing room and no worry to dispose of a pad.
Note: a couple of clients who have tried this option swear they will never wear pads again, certain that the pad itself was irritating their vulva and making their incontinence worse.
Pro TechDry panties and maxie panties
www.stressnomore.co.uk * use SUPPORTEDMUMS at checkout for a 15% discount
The gusset in these ProTech knickers is hardly thicker than your normal good robust cotton “pants” but is made of 3 layers, an absorbent fibre (holding up to 40ml = 2+ tablespoons), an odour retention layer and wick away surface. Like some of the best quality pads but fixed in place with sealed seams.
SPEAX (previously Icon Undies)
These are made by the same manufacturers as the Thinx range of period pants. A forward thinking company with their open-ness about the need for products to empower women to be active. And addressing sustainability and waste. They have a rather quirky style of presentation and some bold adverts.
Five different styles: from Hip Hugger, through classic bikini to thong. Varying prices depending on style £16 – £24 . They sent through some samples lately for me to show in clinic. The colours are fun: deep orange, blue, nude, grey and black. They are made from a silky rather than cotton fabric, much more like an ordinary fashion knicker.
NB: they are hand wash only which you might miss in the instructions (and then be very cross about!).
#4 A subtle cover-up with skorts and skirts
It started with school uniform but now we can all wear skorts! Perfect for just hiding a good pair of pants with a pad and getting on with whatever you wanted to do.
£20-£80. Offered by brands Decathalon, Salomon, Reebok and many others.
prettyfit.co.uk are stockists of the US brand runningskirts with a limited range but fun unusual prints £62.
#5 Add extra support to your core from the outside
EVB Sports range of shorts, leggings and capris
www.evbsport.com * £60-£80
Have a look at these if you feel just generally ‘unsupported’ at the moment.
Maybe not so much worried about leaks? More that your entire lower half moves about too much? Or that exercise is straining and fatiguing your pelvic floor and core muscles.
EVB Company founder, Yvonne Brady tells her story of returning to running after her third baby and struggling with muscle strength. Women’s health physiotherapists like myself are recommending these as an ‘extra’ layer. To create more lift and support for the pelvis, abdominals and pelvic floor.
Most of my clients have gone for the shorts style, giving the option of wearing them underneath any of their other leggings.
# 6 Add extra support to your bladder from the inside
The options have recently expanded for devices that aim to give support to your bladder from inside the vagina. Often called pessaries. The devices/brands you may see advertised include Contam, Contiform (available on prescription) and Uresta. The devices increase in price, partly reflecting the number of times that they can be used – from single week use only to monthly to reuseable for a year.
These work particularly well where you or your physiotherapist feel that the bladder has dropped only a little bit (prolapse of the anterior wall/cystocele). Yet everything else inside (particularly the uterus) is still well supported. You both feel you have created a good layer of muscles through exercise but could do with a bit more support when you are trying to be more active?
This market has recently expanded. I have written a separate post explaining how these products work, the differences between them & where to get them from. : Bladder Support Devices to reduce stress urinary incontinence: how do they work?
Before you go…a promise?
……that you will not use these ideas to make you complacent about a leakage problem. Nor as an excuse to avoid the issue of your bladder for another 3 months!
Incontinence might be “common” (45% of women report bladder leakage at 3 months after birth, even 10% of those after Caesarean) …. but it is never “normal”.
Incontinence is a sign of pelvic floor (or bladder) dysfunction. Something that needs addressing. And that can be greatly improved or completely resolved with the right exercise and help.
Incontinence is also a sign of lack of pelvic floor support. You may need to consider how pelvic floor friendly your sport is (ummm….trampolining….)?? Or you may need to modify activities to protect yourself from risk of pelvic organ prolapse.
To summarise! Do use these stop-gap options to get comfy, happier and more active NOW. But please, please commit to doing something about your pelvic floor muscles. Book an appointment with you GP to get a referral to a Specialist Physiotherapist for full assessment, support and advice. You can be much better than you are right now.
What are your tried and tested tips? Please share your experiences with other mums in our comments section below. Your story will inspire others.
#beyouroptiMUM #pantsnotpads #NoMoreMiserableMums