Love Your Bladder This Valentine's Day

This Valentine’s Day, show your bladder some love… and don’t let your bladder get in the way of your love life.

Tamara BavendamAs Valentine’s Day approaches, love is in the air, or at least on the store shelves. But I’m willing to bet most women aren’t giving much of that love to their bladders. As I’ve discussed in a previous blog post, silence around bladder health has made the topic taboo. We often ignore our bladders, as long as they don’t give us any trouble. And when women do experience bladder problems, we often feel too embarrassed to get help. But the problems nonetheless exist, including accidentally leaking urine (called urinary incontinence), needing to go eight or more times during the day (called urinary frequency), getting up to go at night (called nocturia), or having a very strong and sudden need to urinate (called urgency). Many women assume these problems are a normal and unavoidable part of getting older. 

Taking care of your bladder is a way of loving yourself. Since bladder problems can get in the way of physical activity, sexual intimacy, and good hydration, showing your bladder some TLC may keep you healthier and happier.

So how do you show your bladder love?

How to Love Your Bladder

Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health are trying to learn more about how women can prevent bladder problems, but we do know many things that may help keep your bladder healthy:

  • Drink enough fluids so that the bladder needs to be emptied every three to four hours. Your urine should be pale yellow. Water is the best fluid for bladder health.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol and caffeinated foods and drinks can make bladder problems worse.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking can cause bladder cancer.
  • Try not to get constipated. Eat plenty of high-fiber foods (like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits), drink enough water, and stay physically active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Make healthy food choices, and stay physically active.
  • Do pelvic floor muscle exercises. Pelvic floor muscles help hold urine in the bladder. Daily exercises can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles to help keep you from leaking urine when you sneeze, cough, lift, laugh, or have a sudden urge to urinate. Get instructions in this Bladder Health Guide.
  • Don’t hold your urine all day. Holding urine in your bladder for too long can wear out your bladder muscles and make a bladder infection more likely.
  • Be in a relaxed position while urinating. Relaxing the muscles around the bladder will make it easier to empty it. Hovering over the toilet seat may make it hard to relax. It is best to sit on the toilet seat and take enough time to fully empty your bladder.
  • If you experience bladder problems, get help. Treatments are available for bladder problems that do not involve drugs or surgery.

Another reason to focus on your bladder around Valentine’s Day is the connection between bladder health and sex. I know, your bladder is probably the last thing you want to think about during intimate moments. But a healthy bladder contributes to a healthy sex life, and adopting healthy sex habits may help keep your bladder healthy. Here’s what I want you to know:

  • Urinary incontinence doesn’t have to sabotage your sex life. Sexual intimacy can be hard for the nearly 1 in 5 women estimated to have urinary incontinence. Nearly half of women with urinary incontinence report negative impacts on their sex lives. Many women may be too embarrassed to discuss the issue with their health care teams or even their sexual partners, choosing instead to avoid sexual intimacy entirely. But treatments are effective in most women who do seek help. So if leaking urine is impacting your sex life, ask your health care team about treatments that may work for you.
  • You can lower your risk for bladder infections. Bladder infections are the most common type of urinary tract infection. Bladder infections happen when bacteria or other germs enter the urethra and then the bladder. Sexual activity can move bacteria from the bowel or vaginal cavity to the urethral opening and lead to a bladder infection. Remember to urinate after sex to lower your risk for infection.

So how about a Valentine’s Day resolution to show some love for your bladder? It just might be the key to a happier, healthier you — now and in the future.

About the author

Tamara Bavendam

Tamara Bavendam, M.D., M.S. is senior advisor for Women’s Urologic Health at the NIH. Her career has focused on reducing the impact of lower urinary tract conditions on women. She is a project scientist for the Prevention of Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (PLUS) Research Consortium.