Nadia Sawalha is no stranger to chatting openly about personal issues alongside a cuppa and a giggle with her friends on Loose Women. But even she admits there is still one last taboo subject that can be hard to broach with colleagues and loved ones – and that’s bladder weakness.
Almost half of all British women over the age of 18 have experienced some form of incontinence – whether it’s a mild, occasional issue or something more regular – yet so few of us talk about it. Latest research from global incontinence brand Depend found one in five women haven’t spoken to anyone about what they’re experiencing and two thirds haven’t even told their GP.
But Nadia thinks that it’s time this changed.
The TV presenter and actress – best known for her role as Annie Palmer in Eastenders in the Nineties – first noticed she was having bladder weakness after she gave birth naturally to her two children, Maddy and Kiki. “I think it crept into my life insidiously almost without me realising at first,” says Nadia.
But over time, she began avoiding certain activities and changing her routine in fear of what might happen.
“I used to be a really keen runner but my worst moment of incontinence came on my second marathon. Now, I don’t run anymore. I also gave up zumba,” she says, regretfully.
It’s a situation that will no doubt resonate with many people experiencing incontinence, as research suggests 30 per cent of women affected do less exercise, while 69 per cent stopped leaving the house for long periods.
Earlier this year Nadia even experienced bladder weakness on Loose Women, while the team were trampolining on air.
“At least I was wearing black trousers,” jokes Nadia.
“I never, ever wear grey leggings anymore.”
But, joking aside, that moment was something of a breakthrough as the Loose Women ladies began talking, for the first time, about incontinence on TV, with
each woman sharing her own stories. And following that particular lunchtime show, Nadia had many women coming up to her in the street to talk to her about the issue.
“There is nothing so powerful as women talking to each other about something. Not only is a problem shared a problem halved, it’s also how we empower each other.”
Today Nadia uses pilates and ‘rebounding’ (bouncing on a small trampoline) to strengthen her pelvic floor and help her symptoms, as well as using incontinence products when she needs to. She says one of the best things we can do is start talking with other women in our family and friendship group who may be experiencing the same thing. “The numbers of women are big enough that even if a few of us start speaking up, it will become OK to talk about incontinence as openly as we do about other body things, such as periods and menopause.
”As busy women, always putting others in front of ourselves, we miss out on enough as it is, without letting something like bladder weakness get in our way, too.”
- Depend Active-Fit underwear is now available in the UK. Visit its online community at www.depend.co.uk for more stories from women who have taken control of their incontinence.
The doctor's tips for bladder weakness
GP, Dr Sara Kayat has some expert advice for women experiencing bladder problems:
- Try to exercise and adjust your diet if you’re overweight, as extra weight puts pressure on your pelvic floor.
- Drink the right amount. Drinking less water to avoid leaks is dangerous and can actually irritate your bladder. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, too, which make you want to wee more often.
- Practice your pelvic floor exercises daily to strengthen the muscles. Imagine you’re about to pass urine, then clench it in for three seconds and relax. Repeat ten times and that’s one set. You need to do three sets a day.
- Go to see your GP. Many women find it difficult to talk about the issue but your GP can make lots of suggestions to help, including referring you to a specialist for bladder training.
- Don’t see reaching for an incontinence pad as defeatist as it’s a great way of getting back to doing things you may have stopped doing because of bladder weakness.