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woman sitting on toilet with her pajama bottoms at her ankles

What the Books Don’t Tell You: I Can’t Pee After Giving Birth!

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I love your advice column and I feel very grateful to have been able to glean a lot of advice and support from it. Thank you so much for doing what you do. I’m reaching out because I need to know if other moms have had this issue.

I gave birth about four weeks ago to a beautiful baby girl, but the birth was really hard on my body. I’m a small framed woman, and I busted out a 9 pound baby who was not particularly cooperative (as much as babies can be during births). She did not “mold her head” and her body refused to compress as she was sliding out. So…. there were…. issues. I got a pretty bad tear, but the biggest being that my body seems to have forgotten how to pee on its own. This is the opposite of what other women have had when they couldn’t stop peeing. I can’t pee… like at all.

During the hospital stay the nurses kept trying to tell me to “just go pee” and I wanted to punch them in the face because I was trying. Dear god I was trying. I’d sit tearing up on the toilet desperate for SOMETHING. In the end, my insurance company wouldn’t let me stay another night and I was sent home with a catheter. Not sure how familiar you are with bladder void trials, but I went through three…. each trying to pee, failing and then having to be drained. I went to a specialist, and they tried having me catheterize myself. I must’ve been doing it wrong because it kinda hurt, I could only do it on the floor and I hardly had any urine come out. I’m back on the 24 hour catheter for the next three weeks. This doesn’t seem to be something that comes in the books, and certainly I haven’t found many women that have had this issue. What about the collective? have you or any of your readers gone through something like this?

This on top of a newborn that is pretty fussy (I’m suspecting colic, but am waiting it out to see if she doesn’t settle down), has been incredibly draining on me and I am pretty much crying every day. My husband has been amazing, and has tried to help, but I can see him starting to drain a little bit. He’s brave though and will never admit to being tired/stressed out when he knows what I’m going through, but I need to have some sort of hope. I need someone to tell me that I will relearn how to pee and that this phase will pass- cause right now…. it doesn’t seem to be going and I’m already in tears thinking about how I’m going to go back to work and try to live a normal life when I have so much going on.

I’m sorry if this isn’t a great topic, and really understand if this isn’t something you’ll ask the readership- because I mean…. it doesn’t seem to be something that people have had happen to them.

-just trying to pee

Oh my goodness, I am so sorry you’re going through this. You’re right, it’s not particularly common but DOES happen, and it sounds like a walking nightmare. And as we’ve never been the sort to shy away from “unpleasant” postpartum topics, let’s see if we can collectively find you some relief.

I’m sure you’ve done all the same Googling over the past few weeks that I’ve managed to cram in this morning, but here’s the general gist for anyone who hasn’t heard of this particular problem: Birth is really, really hard on your insides (duh), and bladder problems in general are common, but vary from woman to woman. Some experience incontinence (hence the importance of Kegels, develop UTIs (which cause burning, constant pressure but small urine output), and others experience numbing and spasms, either from epidurals or just general trauma from pushing and pressure from the baby. (Given that your baby was so large compared to the size of your body makes sense to me that other internal organs would suffer some fallout.) This last category of women can struggle to pee for weeks or even months, and almost have to “relearn” how to control and release their bladders. It seems like it can be a combination of physical AND mental recovery (because your brain is so very much tied to controlling the release of bodily functions in the first place). From EVERYTHING I’ve read — it is almost 100% a temporary thing that passes.

Some women online have success with simple tricks, like having the sink running while you try to pee, or to simply sit for an extended period of time reading a book, watching videos, etc. — anything to keep your brain from focusing on your bladder’s lack of cooperation. Others discovered un-diagnosed UTIs were the culprit. The most helpful thread from a first-person experience I could find was this one on Mamapedia….the OP describes your situation almost exactly, although her birth was not particularly traumatic, like yours. After taking the advice from others in the thread, she got a second opinion with a better urologist who was more familiar with postpartum bladder issues.

Her happy update:

“Thank GOD I posted this question on this site, because Toni C. answered and referred me to UCLA and got to see the top Urologist in the world, Dr. Raz the next day! Miracles do happen! After seeing him, he took me off the catheter, and had me work on going to the bathroom, and retraining of the bladder. And the nurses taught me to check and monitor myself ( I have to catheter myself, 2x/daily until I am no longer retaining more than 5 oz.) and I am much much better now. My body is doing its job. He said only two things could cause this: A traumatic birth (which I didn’t have) OR the epidural temporarily paralyzed my bladder. I thought this was an urban myth, as I only heard about it from midwives and “natural” birth advocates. But it is real. The epidural can paralyze your bladder, and do much worse, I imagine. The good thing, the Dr. said it that 99% of the time, it comes back. The longest case he’s heard of is 3 months. Thank you Toni and all of you who took the time to write!!!”

So you did have a very rough birth (not sure if the epidural applies, although Lord in heaven if there was ever a birth that justified some drugs), and probably do need some help retraining your bladder. I don’t want to second-guess your current doctor’s use of the full-time catheter since you struggled to do it yourself, but I think a second opinion is a good idea here.

I would ALSO suggest working with your OB-GYN about your moods and the crying — obviously you have some for-real concrete reasons to be an emotional wreck right now, but it’s entirely possible that your mental anguish is standing in the way of being able to let your brain and bladder fix their missed connection right now. (But anyone who tells you to “JUST RELAX” gets a dirty diaper thrown at their head.) An additional focus on whatever kind of self-care/anti-anxiety plan you can handle right now seems like a good idea.

I’m hoping we’ll hear from some other mamas with first-hand experience to share, but after everything I’ve read I am confident enough to at least reassure you that NO, THIS IS NOT YOUR REALITY FOREVER. Your body will heal. You will go back to some version of “normal,” and as difficult as everything is right now, and as trite as this sounds: It will get better.

Find a doctor who understands this condition and feel free to completely unload on him/her, cry in front of a kind nurse, and take care of yourself as best you can. Good luck, and please let us know how things work out.

Photo source: Depositphotos/gpointstudio


If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice[at]gmail[dot]com.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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