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Prevention

In many cases, incontinence can be prevented by adopting healthy diet and lifestyle habits. Here are some simple steps that can be incorporated into your daily life to help prevent urinary incontinence and faecal incontinence.

Drink well

  • aim to drink 6-8 cups (1.5 - 2 litres) of fluid per day, unless otherwise advised by your doctor
  • spread your drinks evenly throughout the day
  • drink more fluids (preferably water) if the weather is hot or if you are exercising, and
  • cut down on alcohol, fizzy drinks and drinks that have caffeine in them as they irritate the bladder.

Tip: Don't reduce your fluid intake if you have a bladder control problem, as this will concentrate your urine and make the problem worse. 

Eat a healthy diet

  • eat plenty of fibre, which improves bowel function by absorbing water and adding bulk to your bowel motions (poo). Bulky stools keep things moving through your bowel to avoid constipation. Fibre is found in foods such as multi grain or whole grain breads, cereals and cereal products, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and 
  • eat 2 servings of fruit, 5 servings of vegetables and 5 servings of cereals and breads each day.

Tip: A high fibre diet means you need to drink plenty of fluid as the fibre needs water in order to bulk up your bowel motions.

Lead a positive lifestyle

  • maintain an ideal body weight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or less. Excess body fat strains the pelvic floor and can lead to bladder and bowel control problems. Speak to your doctor or qualified dietitian for more information about safe ways to lose weight, and
  • Stop smoking. Chronic (long-term) coughing associated with smoking can weaken the muscles of your pelvic floor and lead to bladder and bowel control problems. 

Tip: Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for information on quitting smoking and managing a chronic cough. You can also contact the Quitline on 131 848 to get information or advice about a smoking cessation plan.

Get active

  • aim to exercise for 30 minutes most days. Exercise stimulates movement of the bowel, and even gentle exercise like walking helps, and
  • do your pelvic floor muscle exercises regularly. Obesity, pregnancy, childbirth, regular heavy lifting and a chronic cough can weaken the pelvic floor, but you can strengthen these muscles with specific exercises.

Practice good toilet habits 

  • go to the toilet when you get the urge to open your bowels, as this is the most effective time to completely empty your bowels.  Most people get the urge first thing in the morning or following a meal when eating has stimulated the bowel.
  • Correct toileting position diagramget into the correct sitting position on the toilet. Sit on the toilet, elbows on knees, lean forward and support feet with a footstool. This helps to fully relax your pelvic floor and sphincter muscles. Bulge out your tummy, relax your back passage and let go (don’t hold your breath or strain). When you have finished firmly draw up your back passage. 
  • avoid constipation as this affects bladder and bowel function. If you often strain to move your bowels, the pelvic floor stretches and weakens over time.
  • don't get into the habit of going to the toilet 'just in case' - only go when you need to, and 
  • visit your doctor as soon as you suspect a urinary tract infection.

Get help

Seek help for bladder and bowel problems, as the symptoms will not go away on their own and may worsen over time.  For further information speak to your doctor or a continence nurse advisor on the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66.

If you are caring for someone with bladder or bowel problems, practical tips and advice are available to assist you with your care. Read more on caring with someone with incontinence.