New Zealanders know what it’s like to experience “Life’s little spills”. Loss of bladder or bowel control regularly affects nearly 600,000 of us. Mothers and children are especially vulnerable.

The New Zealand Continence Association is a non-profit organization

dedicated to helping people with bowel and bladder incontinence. Mothers have the highest risk for bladder and bowel problems due mainly to the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth. About one in three women who have had a baby have an incontinence problem.

Child-bearing can weaken the pelvic floor and cause loss of control. The pelvic floor is the “support structure” of muscles stretching from the pubic bone at the front to the tail-bone at the back and from side to side. It is important because it helps in both bladder and bowel control.

Problems experienced around childbirth can often recur or worsen later in a woman’s life. Especially bladder leakage, but also bowel incontinence, can significantly affect a woman’s lifestyle. Leakage can lead to loss of confidence, reduced sport and exercise and avoiding social outings.

Incontinence can also put stress on close relationships. Leakage can interfere with sexuality and weaken the intimacy enjoyed by partners. In the same way, embarrassment and anxiety about leaking can isolate people from their friends and relatives.

Childhood bed-wetting can be a sensitive issue for many parents. Children differ in their physical development, emotional maturity, and living environments. Parents often feel confused about the advice they get from family and friends.

This is why health professional guidance, such as talking to a nurse advisor who runs a bedwetting programme, is recommended by the NZ Continence Assn. The Helpline can give you contacts in your local area. The helpline also provides information pamphlets on toilet-training, bed-wetting and how to help children establish good bladder and bowel habits for life.

The Association’s CEO, Jan Zander, points out, “Many of us seem to have grown up with a very blurred picture of our body’s ‘waste management’ system. Many adults are unaware of the importance of the basics: how to sit on the toilet properly, what ‘regular’ actually means, how aspects of diet and fluid intake affect incontinence. They are not recognising constipation correctly, how toilet frequency and urgency, haemorrhoids or wind can be linked to control problems, or how medicines taken for other health conditions might cause or worsen their incontinence.”

The NZCA points out that “The common picture of our bladder and bowel function is all too ‘grey’ – it’s the work of the Association to give this picture the colour it deserves! We also owe it to our children to give them a positive and educated approach to bladder and bowel function that will last for life.”

Incontinence is never normal at any age – and life’s little spills can get bigger!

Incontinence often shows itself as “small” problems that are too easily dismissed. The NZ Continence Assn encourages people to take “Life’s little spills” seriously and to seek professional help. When signs are dismissed as “just a part of getting old” or “because I’ve had children” or “something children will grow out of ”, an opportunity to prevent or reduce incontinence can be lost.

Incontinence is a very significant health problem for the NZ community – physically, socially, emotionally and financially. The NZ Continence Assn is the peak national body for the promotion of continence and operates the National Continence Helpline.

If you have questions about your bladder or bowel function, contact the Continence Helpline 0800 650 659. Free pamphlets covering many aspects of incontinence are available for mailing. For more information phone 09 236 0610 or email jan@continence.org.nz .

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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