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I Can't Pee After Giving Birth! (What the Birthing Books Don't Tell You)

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


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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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  • Semmah2

    February 2, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    I had this problem after my third child (almost 11 pounds). Had gone home before realizing the problem and had to go back and be readmitted for the bladder issue. Was catherized too, in and out, in and out, until one very smart nurse suggested I go take a nice hot shower and try to pee in the shower. I was flabbergasted at the thought, but you know what — it worked!

    • Alpha Mom (TM)

      Alpha Mom (TM)

      February 2, 2017 at 5:37 pm


  • Elizabeth Wagner

    February 2, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    I had a similar experience and my nurse told me to pretend to blow out candles or into a straw. Something about the muscle contraction used to breathe that way (or just focusing on other body parts) did the trick. I hope the OP’s situation is so easily resolved!

  • Kim CS

    February 2, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    I can’t help with your main problem but I can suggest if your baby is excessively crying you don’t need to wait it out and cause more stress. All babies cry but colic can be due to reflux. My son cried 10-11 hours a day until we got him on some ranitidine. Ask your doctor for a trial on Zantac/ranitidine if your baby has more than normal amounts of crying or spit up, especially acid smelling spit up.

    • Alecia Ramsay

      February 3, 2017 at 10:19 am

      Yes! Our older son had reflux & the Zantac helped immediately. Just make sure you stay on top of the baby’s growth curve & have your pediatrician adjust the dose upwards as the baby gets bigger.

  • Emily

    February 3, 2017 at 2:40 am

    No experience with this issue however I am a physical therapist and I HIGHLY recommend you see a women’s health PT ASAP. They are experts in rehabbing your pelvic floor which is an integral part of the muscular control of urination.

    • Alecia Ramsay

      February 3, 2017 at 10:20 am

      My PT practice does this! It’s not what I’m going there for, but I was really glad to see they were advertising it as one of their core services.

  • Matti

    February 3, 2017 at 9:41 am

    It definitely sounds like something going on with the nerves going to your bladder on top of the trauma from childbirth. I would go to a different urologist (find one that works with neurogenic bladder) and then also see a pelvic PT. I saw a PT after my second was born and it helped a lot. I found mine through a local mom FB group vs googleing “pelvic PT” – big hugs for all you’re going through with a new baby!!

  • RA

    February 3, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    I had a similarly traumatic birth experience with my first that actually ended up requiring multiple follow-up surgeries to fix the episiotomy/tear that just wouldn’t heal. For the first surgery (which was in the OR – some of the others were smaller, in-office procedures), I opted to have a spinal block instead of full anesthesia to avoid possible side effects and having to pump and dump. After the surgery, I could.not.pee. I was also made to feel like I was doing something wrong, and the nurse who inserted the catheter was terrible…not only did the insertion hurt, but for the next 24 hours the catheter hurt worse than the surgical site! I pretty much cried for the next 24 hours straight, but thankfully, once I removed the catheter, I was able to go on my own. I am so, so sorry that your issues did not resolve so easily, but please take heart and know that the (many and awful) repercussions of a traumatic birth will not last forever. Nor are you doomed to have similarly traumatic births in the future! My recovery from my second, although not perfect or “easy,” was FAR better and more manageable than the first time around. Praying your issues improve soon!

  • Mandi

    February 4, 2017 at 12:07 am

    I had this same problem after giving birth to my first baby. I remember searching the internet, and finding the exact same Mamapedia that is referenced above. However, nothing I found prepared me for my emotions in dealing with this.

    When I had the 24-hour catheter (I them for a week after delivery), I would cry hysterically, I would yell at anyone who dared try to make me feel better – the emotions of having a baby were nothing compared to my emotions that my body wasn’t doing something it had done for 28 years prior. I truly felt awful. What helped me emotionally was being able to be free of the 24-hour catheter and moving to be able to catheterize myself.

    So…on to that – the first night I went home after being given the instructions in self-catheterizing, I was unable to do it myself, and rather than go to the ER, my sweet husband was able to watch a YouTube video (yes, they are out there) and provide some relief. I went back the next day to my OBGYN and spent some quality time with a nurse I felt really comfortable with until I was able to do it myself. At the beginning, I was never able to self-catheterize while sitting, I had to be laying down, and I used a hand mirror and a urinal receptacle (like a guy would use). Eventually, I became more comfortable and could self-catheterize while sitting on the toilet.

    How my OBGYN explained it to me was that it wasn’t only the trauma of birth, because I had that in spades, but the fact that the epidural had “paralyzed” my bladder temporarily after birth, and then because we didn’t realize, my bladder had gotten distended with too much urine. It took me about 5 1/2 weeks (1 week with the 24-hour catheters and 4 weeks with the self-catheters) before I was able to retrain my bladder to not hold on to so much urine so that I could return to normal functions.

    Some other random thoughts –
    1. When I was going through the week of the 24-hour catheter, my OBGYN had me clamp the tube (even though some urine can still escape) and then unclamp it about every two hours to simulate to my bladder actually going to the bladder. He said that having the 24-hour catheter was keeping my bladder lazy and that it wouldn’t want to function properly because the catheter was doing its work for it.
    2. Finding a second opinion like stated above might be something to give you peace of mind. I never went to a specialist because my OBGYN had dealt with this many times before and he knew what to look for and how to treat me. Find someone who makes you comfortable.
    3. Are you sure that the size catheter that they gave you to use is correct? They come in many sizes – I got the wrong size once, and when I opened the box I immediately sent it back. It could be that you need a smaller size.

    Mostly, I want you to hear that you aren’t alone. I remember crying as I searched the internet over and over, day after day, hoping that I could find someone who had this experience. People don’t talk about things like this, and that just made it worse for me.

    On a more positive note, I did have a second baby and what helped prevent this the second time around was immediately after I couldn’t pee post delivery, they emptied my bladder with the catheter, so my bladder didn’t get too full and stretched out, and then I was able to urinate normally and go home right at 24 hours post delivery.

  • Felicity Marie

    February 4, 2017 at 2:47 am

    I saw mention of UCLA, so I also want to throw in a referral for an amazing physical therapy office that specializes in prenatal and postpartum issues. Bebe Physical Therapy in West LA. Try them! And glad to hear the urologist helped!

  • Felicity Marie

    February 4, 2017 at 2:53 am

    Oh no and I misread the posts and the follow up was from someone else. I hope my referral will be helpful to someone.

    In the meantime, this is something that can and will get better (the baby too!). Babies really, truly, don’t cry this much forever, and I say this as the mom of a formerly very screamy baby. Hang in there!

  • Vickie

    February 4, 2017 at 11:32 am

    This happened to me too, but only for a short time, but with all three babies.

    First one had a slightly larger head. Second one was face up/occiput posterior. Both those babies were in 8 1/2 + lb range. Third baby was easiest but was just over 9 lbs. All three were unmedicated births. My uterus is tipped (the wrong way), which for me means a harder time. I had tearing with the first and also hemorrhoids.

    This is going to sound odd, but it worked three times. With the first baby my doctor told the nurses to pack my bottom in ice. They objected, he insisted. And it reduced swelling, made everything better, and eventually I could pee.

    With the next two babies, I requested ice immediately. All three times it took a while to pee. Nurses kept suggesting catheter and I just kept saying, give me a little time, and when swelling went down, I was able to pee on my own.

    My oldest is now 27, that hemorrhoid still flares from time to time and ice still works best.

  • darla

    February 5, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    Longest shortest time podcast episode 110 is dedicated to birth trauma. They interview a urogynecologist and the website has links on how to find one. Just Google longest shortest time podcast. The episode is recent, helpful, and you will be able to hear that you are not alone. This can be fixed!

  • Katy

    February 9, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    You poor thing! I had this same problem after a traumatic labor, and was sent home over the weekend while my bladder swelled to hold 4 liters of urine–ultimately they drained literal buckets of urine from my swollen body. It took three weeks on a catheter and then two months of cathing myself at home to get back to normal, but I am now mostly a-okay. I think the bladder drama distracted me from my third degree tear and basically made my ladyparts a second baby that needed tending.

    When they removed the catheter and said I would have to bladder train and catheterize myself, even though I knew it was the best plan, I cried and cried. It sounded so invasive. However, after the first couple of days during which I was shaky and worried, I became a pro. Good luck to you and try accupunture! I really think it sped my healing up by a month or more. You’ll be okay! Really and truly.

  • ElysetheEevee

    March 12, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    Sorry, I know this is a bit of an older post, but I just want to say that this sounds like a waking nightmare and I definitely empathize with you here (though I didn’t have this issue). Having the catheter just the one or two times during birth and right after was traumatizing for me, and honestly one of the WORST points of the entire birthing process somehow. Probably just a personal fear though.
    Anyway, I just wanted to comment and cheer you on! Hang in there! I know you’re most likely fine by now, but just wanted to throw that out there for ya.

  • Kristin

    December 30, 2017 at 1:56 am

    Is there any update from this reader on how she went with recovery of her bladder function? I could have written the post myself and I too am desperate to hear success stories…

    • Mac88

      January 7, 2018 at 1:59 pm

      Kristen, would be interested to hear how you’re dealing with this!