When you drink the right amount each day. The key is figuring out how much you really need.
Many women who experience unwanted urine loss mistakenly drink too little, which can lead to dehydration problems. For others, the opposite may be true. Take Sylvie Light for example. She perspires a lot when she exercises. "Every morning, I filled a half-gallon jug with cold water," says the 46-year-old Tulsa, Okla. teacher, "and I made sure I drank it all by bedtime.
"I was so disciplined," she adds, "that...I drank the entire jug before I allowed myself any iced tea or soft drinks, which added even more liquid. And that doesn't count juice and hot tea for breakfast."
Light had read plenty over the years about drinking an adequate amount of water, so she thought her regimen was helping to keep her healthy—until the bladder spasms started. Instead of taking medications, Light solved her bladder control problem by cutting out 16 ounces of water — about two glasses — a day. Within a few days, her bladder spasms stopped.
Light did the right thing. "Most women I see need to make common-sense changes in their routines, more than they need meds," says Sangeeta Mahajan, M.D., director of the Women's Pelvic Medicine Center at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. Women aren't necessarily drinking too much; they're just not drinking wisely. "The biggest mistake I see isn't that patients with bladder control weakness drink too much in a day," says Dr. Mahajan. "It's that they go all day without drinking, then drink 20 or 30 ounces at night. Then they wake up; their bladders are full; there's a sudden surge of urine; and they leak on the way to the bathroom.
"If you have to get up to use the bathroom several times a night," adds Dr. Mahajan, "or if you can't make it there without 'piddling' on the way,' try cutting off the water intake at dinnertime, at least three hours before you go to bed. Then be sure you go to the bathroom again before you retire, and you should notice a difference."
What else can you do? Try these easy-to-follow tips:
Drink no more than 64 ounces a day.
Drink no more than every hour or so, until you've reached the 64 ounces.
Add about another 10 to 12 ounces if you perspire a lot during exercise, keeping in mind these words from Dr. Mahajan: "We can't measure perspiration, so let your thirst be your guide."
Drink less at a time. Instead of 12 ounces, for instance (about the size of a can of soda), pour just 4 or 5 ounces.
Go to the bathroom every couple of hours during the day, even if you don't feel the urge.
Substitute other liquids for water, but make sure they don't contain sugar or caffeine (which can make you urinate more often). Herbal teas, sugarless lemonade and decaf soda all work just fine.
Treat yourself to sugar-free Popsicles, or freeze decaf green tea in ice cube trays, and include them in your water quota for the day.
Keep a diary of all liquids you drink in a day, your bathroom trips, and when you leak. If these strategies don't work, your diary can help your doctor advise you about modify your drinking habits even more.