I Did Kegels, But I Still Pee When I Sneeze

by Sarah Cottrell
Wavebreakmedia / iStock

I was in the bathroom sitting on the loo and trying to stick a pad to my underwear when my toddler waltzed in and said, “Oh! Look! Mommy diapers?!” Here’s the thing though: I’m not even having my period. What I have is a weak pelvic floor that can only be cured by doing all the Kegels, or so I thought.

Every time I cough, sneeze, laugh too hard, jump on a trampoline, yell, jog, run, jump, try to dance to a Beyoncé song, or even yawn hard enough, my bladder gets overexcited and I wet myself like a toddler.

After I birthed my first child naturally and then had an emergency C-section for my second child, my body did not bounce back the way all the books claimed it would. I was told to do yoga and work those abs. I was told to live and die by Kegels. I was even told that peeing when I sneeze is just part of being a mom and that I should just get used to it.

Except that at 37, I seriously don’t think I am ready to start buying Poise in bulk.

So like any rational person, I looked at my body and my habits — and I realized Kegels don’t fucking work for me.

Throwing my shame out the window, I fired up my Facebook and started asking around to my mom friends, “Level with me, do you pee yourself too?” I was astounded to find that every single one of them had an embarrassing story to tell about a time they wet themselves after coughing or running or sneezing or laughing.

Bolstered by the knowledge that I am not the only one who has an issue with leaking, I next turned to Google to figure out what I could do to fix this problem. And that is when I learned that we can thank some dude named Arnold Kegel, a gynecologist from the 1940s who famously instructed women to lie on their backs and flex their vaginal muscles around his fingers. Yep, you read that correctly.

It turns out that this nearly century-old advice is based on factually inaccurate information about female anatomy. And using vaginal weights (like Ben Wa balls) will not help everyone with the sneeze-pees (aka “stress urinary incontinence”).

What has really helped me and other women I know is actually much more simple: We need practice better posture while sitting and standing. When lying down, try pulling the navel to the spine. Do a simple bridge pose by lying on your back with your arms down and knees in the air. Push through your feet to bring your navel toward the ceiling. Repeat. It feels good. It will help strengthen the appropriate abdominal muscles that help to support your lumbar and urinary tract.

Arnold Kegel’s legacy of ineptness when it comes to women’s anatomy is causing millions of women to line their panties with pads so that they won’t be embarrassed after a sneeze. How ridiculous is that?!

So, I quit doing Kegels, and I told all my mom friends to do the same. We looked up vaginal weights and had a great laugh — wet ourselves — then looked up how to do exercises that will actually work.

As moms, we get gobsmacked with horrible advice and sneering judgment at every turn. We know that no human body bounces back 100% in six weeks. We know that mom bodies are routinely shamed in the media. And we know that after doing a million Kegels we still pee our pants when we laugh too hard. So why keep doing them?