A little bit of urinary incontinence after childbirth is normal, but if you notice that you are still ‘leaking’ when you cough, sneeze, or laugh weeks or months after giving birth, then you are probably suffering from stress incontinence. Under normal circumstances, nerves, muscles and ligaments all work together to support your bladder, and prevent leaks. Straining or injuring even one of these during pregnancy or childbirth can cause them to work less efficiently and that can lead to leaks.
If you suffered from stress incontinence during pregnancy, then you are more likely to have it after the birth too. Women who have had vaginal births are also more likely to develop the problem than those who had c-sections. Assisted vaginal births (when forceps and other devices are used) put you at even greater risk of developing the problem, as does being obese or if you have already had two or more children before your latest child.
In most cases, stress incontinence will start to disappear soon after birth, and within a few weeks or months, it should be gone altogether, or have become an infrequent problem. If you have had stress incontinence however, you are more likely to experience it later on, as you age.
Using a sanitary pad to protect clothes from leaks can help, as can crossing your legs before you cough or sneeze. Kegel exercises can also help to strengthen muscles, and may help the problem, and going to the bathroom as soon as you feel the need to is always a good idea. Avoiding coffee (a diuretic) has been shown to help in some cases too.
If there is serious pain or burning when you urinate, or if your leaking problem does not resolve itself, speak to your doctor. In the first instance, it may indicate an infection, and in the second, you may need surgery to correct a serious problem.