It's the little leaks that happen when you sneeze. Or the ones that happen when you jump on the trampoline with the kids, or run for the bus. And what about when you're giggling over a glass of wine with your friends? You can laugh them off or ignore them every time, but come to think of it, those little leaks happen quite a lot don't they? It's just not very nice to admit it to yourself, and realise that you might actually have a bit of problem.
That problem is incontinence, and one in three women and one in 10 men suffer from it. In fact research has shown that it's more common in the UK than hay fever. But because we're British and a bit funny about "that sort of thing", nobody really talks about it except to joke about it. But the fact is it's not just older people who suffer - women who have had children, menopausal women and men with prostate issues are all more prone to incontinence. Oh and athletes too.
Many athletes have a weak pelvic floor because of the muscle training they undergo. In fact research has shown that one in five athletes have reduced their rate of training because of their incontinence problems, while 10% of athletes have stopped their training completely because of it.
My problems didn't really start until I had my children. One of my kids was a heavy baby, which put a lot of pressure on my pelvic floor and resulted in pain during the pregnancy, so after the birth I got some pelvic support to help get back to normal. My youngest was much lighter so I took things for granted and didn't really think about my pelvic floor. After the birth I tried to do some pelvic floor exercises but I was so busy I soon gave up. But now, whenever I have a coughing fit or I sneeze I have a 'little accident', and it's started to really bother me.
I've since done some research and found out that incontinence is blamed on bladder weakness but that's not really what it's all about. It's actually all about the pelvic floor - a set of muscles in the pelvis running from the frontal pubic bone to the base of the spine. It holds the pelvic organs in place and supports the bladder to provide control when you go to the loo. They relax as the bladder contracts to let urine out and tighten to allow you to hold. Basically, a strong pelvic floor means everything is kept in place and you should have full control over when, where and how often you visit the loo. And a weak pelvic floor means you don't...
A lot of people in the UK have a weak pelvic floor, but the problem is we Brits don't talk about it! In fact according to recent research 60% of British women feel embarrassed about their incontinence and 46% have learned to "just live with it". It's a real taboo, but it's not like this everywhere. In France women are much more open about the problem, and have a healthier attitude to discussing and addressing it.
And thanks to modern technology it's not just about pads these days, there are some really effective ways of addressing the problem. Like Innovo, a wearable device which sends targeted impulses to activate all the muscles of the pelvic floor and strengthen it. As an ambassador I have been using the device and after just a few sessions I've been genuinely amazed at the difference it's already made to my everyday life.
This week it's the UK's first ever Pelvic Floor Week, which is all about trying to break the taboo around incontinence. The idea is to actively encourage people to talk more openly about the problem while teaching them about the importance of a strong pelvic floor to help prevent it.
So this week, if you're affected by incontinence, please start talking about it! Talk about it to your best friend, your doctor, your mum, whoever. Please help break down the barriers and make incontinence less of a taboo, because you're not alone in dealing with it and it's definitely not something you have to put up with. #pelvicfloorweek