For many people with incontinence, the following self-help tips and lifestyle changes are enough to relieve symptoms.
1. Daily pelvic floor exercises
These can be really effective at reducing leakage, but it's important to do the exercises properly.
You can feel your pelvic floor muscles if you try to stop the flow of urine when you go to the toilet. To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, sit comfortably and squeeze the muscles 10 to 15 times in a row. Avoid holding your breath, or tightening your stomach, buttock, or thigh muscles at the same time.
When you get used to doing pelvic floor exercises, you can try holding each squeeze for a few seconds. Every week, you can add more squeezes, but be careful not to overdo it, and always have a rest in between sets of squeezes.
You may have to do these exercises for 3 months before you see any benefits.
Pelvic floor exercises are most effective when tailored to the person. Continence and women's health or pelvic floor physiotherapists can assess your pelvic floor function and design an exercise program to meet your needs. Ask your GP for a referral.
The Continence Foundation of Australia has produced this video on how to do pelvic floor exercises:
The Continence Foundation of Australia has produced these videos to help explain the function and role of the pelvic floor muscles:
Female pelvic floor muscles
Male pelvic floor muscles
Visit the Continence Foundation’s Pelvic Floor First website for more information about the pelvic floor.
2. Quit smoking
If you smoke, you put yourself at risk of incontinence because coughing puts strain on your pelvic floor muscles. Advice to help you stop smoking is available from www.quitnow.gov.au or call the Quitline on 13 7848. You can also ask your doctor or pharmacist.
3. The right exercise
High-impact exercise puts pressure on your pelvic floor muscles and can increase leakage. Sit-ups can also make you leak by straining your pelvic floor muscles. If you want to strengthen your pelvic floor to relieve symptoms, replace jogging and aerobics classes with Pilates. This gentle method of stretching and strengthening core muscles is becoming more popular as a treatment for stress incontinence.
4. Avoid lifting
Lifting puts strain on your pelvic floor muscles, so avoid it wherever you can. When you do need to lift something, such as when picking up children or shopping bags, tighten your pelvic floor muscles before and during the lift.
5. Lose weight
Being overweight can weaken your pelvic floor muscles and can cause incontinence because of the pressure of fatty tissue on the bladder. Your symptoms may improve, and could clear up completely, if you lose the excess weight.
6. Deal with constipation
Straining to empty your bowels weakens your pelvic floor muscles and makes leakage worse. Never delay the urge to empty your bowels. If you have constipation, it may help to change your diet and lifestyle. Eating more fibre and taking more exercise can help. It may also help if you change the way you sit and use your muscles to empty your bowels. A specialist physiotherapist can advise you on this.
7. Cut down on caffeine
Caffeine irritates the bladder and can make incontinence worse. Coffee has the biggest effect, so stop drinking it or switch to decaffeinated coffee. Soft drinks, tea and cocoa also contain caffeine, so cut down on these too and replace them with water and herbal or fruit teas.
8. Cut down on alcohol
Alcohol is a diuretic, a substance that makes you urinate more often. Cutting down may help your incontinence symptoms.
9. Drink plenty of water
Many people with urinary incontinence avoid drinking fluids as they feel it causes more problems. However, limiting your fluid intake makes incontinence worse because it reduces your bladder's capacity.
Some medical conditions may require you to limit your fluid intake; your doctor will advise you on this.
10. Food for thought
Avoid spicy and acidic foods, such as curries and citrus fruits, as they can irritate the bladder and make symptoms worse.
If symptoms persist or you are concerned please see your doctor.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: December 2019