Leaks happen: “I experienced my first leak after going for a run after having my first daughter”
“I was determined to get back into running after having a baby,” says Megan Burns, a 28-year-old fitness instructor from Cornwall. As a mother-of-two, Megan found that getting back into running, and fitness in general, wasn’t a smooth process after giving birth. “I experienced my first leak after going for my first run after having my first daughter. I was about eight weeks postpartum. I turned around to go home – luckily I was wearing black so I wasn’t too worried about people noticing – and I knew then that I needed to go see my doctor.”
Here’s the rub: postpartum urinary incontinence is very common. Like Megan, you can experience it post birth while doing exercise or by simple coughing, sneezing or laughing. According to the NHS, strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with pelvic floor exercises can help to stop the involuntary leaking of urine.
Do seek medical advice for incontinence
For Megan, she went to see a physio as advised by her doctor. “The physio checked that I was doing my pelvic floor exercises correctly,” she recalls. “She said that I was and that I didn’t have any other problems. However, they told me to use a tampon to help strengthen my pelvic floor. This was dangerous advice as you shouldn’t insert a tampon when you’re dry, and it was very uncomfortable. I found consistent pelvic floor training was the right solution. As it stands, there’s so little education.”
Despite so many women experiencing incontinence, Elvie’s recent research revealed 46% of women do nothing to look after their pelvic floor health. Almost a quarter (23%) of women who suffer from incontinence said they feel disgusted with themselves, while 10% of women feel alienated because they are made to feel alone.
This was something that Megan wasn’t willing to endure. “I had my second baby and I had the same issue with a weak pelvic floor,” she says. “I knew it was time to sort it out properly and not have to use anything – like a tampon – to do any form of exercise. Exercise is a big part of my life.”
How to do pelvic floor exercises
Advised to set alarms to remember to do her daily pelvic floor exercises is exactly what Megan did. “I had alarms going off on my phone six times a day to do my pelvic floor exercises,” she says. “Everyone noticed; there was no getting away from it. So, if my dad and any other male figures were around me, I’d be very open and tell them that I was doing my pelvic floor exercises. I think it helps to be very open about it.”
According to personal trainer Nesrine Dally – a supporter of Elvie’s campaign – there are ways you can incorporate Kegel training into your daily lives. “Build gentle Kegel exercises with the Elvie Trainer into a daily routine you already have,” she advises. “When you are carrying them out, it’s important you’re relaxed, you inhale before you start, exhale as your contract and lift and ensure you are not tensing your abs, quads or glutes. The Elvie Trainer uses real-time biofeedback which accurately tracks if you’re performing your Kegels correctly.”
Studies show that correct and consistent pelvic floor training improves symptoms in up to 70% of cases. “When we start we begin with quite isolated exercises (e.g. Kegels) but those exercises should integrate into all of your core stability movements to reinforce that motor control,” she continues. “Eventually we want to connect everything together and be able to engage our pelvic floor during all types of daily movements from running to sneezing.”
She continued: “If you take part in high impact sports and suffer from incontinence, start to modify your exercises appropriately. You don’t need to cut all high impact movements out, it’s more about modifying the ones where you are not experiencing the best control.”
Speak to friends and family about your incontinence
While getting your pelvic floor back to its best, like Megan, it’s important you incorporate your friends and family into the conversation, too. “I did talk to my friends and family about the problem I was experiencing with leaking,” she says. “I spoke to my mom, who has had four children and comes from a really big family, and it was clear that pelvic floor exercises wasn’t something she ever did or maybe even got advised to do. I think our generation is starting to talk about it more but it’s definitely still a taboo.”
As the billboard has proudly been unveiled in London, Megan hopes to inspire others to seek help and break the taboo and shame around leaking. Especially, after it comes just weeks after TikTok banned a video published on Elvie’s profile, showing Madi leaking urine while weightlifting. Classing the videos as “graphic” content, TikTok has also previously removed videos from Madi’s profile, too.
“I was so nervous about being featured on a 10-foot high billboard with wet leggings,” admits Megan. “But we have to break the stigma around incontinence because it can hold women back from doing the things they love … It’s nice to actually be able to talk about it now that I’ve solved the issue.”