Did you find this page helpful?
Helpline 0800 650 659 continence nz

Bladder Retraining

Bladder Retraining

Bladder Habit

What is a normal bladder habit?

The volume of urine passed each time by a normal adult will vary from around 250 - 400mls. This is the same as about 2 cupful’s. Most people with normal bladder habits can hold on for 3-4 hours between visits to the toilet. Most younger adults can also go right through the night without the need to pass urine.

With ageing, the bladder capacity may get smaller, so the frequency of passing urine may increase, both by day and at night.

What is bladder training?

Bladder training is a treatment for people who suffer from an urgent need to pass small amounts of urine more frequently than normal (3 - 4 hourly) and may experience leakage with urgency.

Sometimes people with no urgency pass urine frequently to avoid accidents. These people may also benefit from bladder training.

The aim of Bladder Training is to improve bladder control and increase the amount of urine the bladder can comfortably hold without urgency / frequency or leakage of urine.

The programme teaches people to suppress the urgent desire to pass urine until a socially acceptable time and place is found. With people experiencing urgency or frequency, learning to "hold on" can be difficult but becomes easier with practice.

Some helpful hints

•   When you have the urgent need to pass urine, you may find it helpful to sit down and distract yourself, and try to take your mind off wanting to get to the toilet.

•   When you do go to the toilet, walk, don't run.

•   Avoid going to the toilet 'just in case'.

•   Minimise the intake of fluids, which may irritate the bladder, for example, coffee, tea, cola and alcohol.

•   Maintain a good bowel habit by keeping your bowel regular and avoiding constipation as this can increase bladder sensitivity.

•   Do your pelvic floor exercises. This gives you confidence to hold on (see NZ Continence Association leaflets on 'Pelvic Floor Training for Women' or 'Pelvic Floor Training for Men).

•   Pelvic floor muscle exercises not only increase the ability to hold urine in, but also can help control an unruly overactive bladder.

Will there be a setback?

Don't be concerned with small day-to-day variations in your bladder pattern - these are normal for everyone.

However, any person who starts a training programme may experience set backs when the symptoms seem worse again. These may occur

•   when you are tired and run down

•   during a urinary tract (bladder) infection

•   (see your doctor immediately if you suspect this)

•   at times of anxiety or emotional stress when the weather is wet, windy or cold

•   during times of illness e.g. cold or flu

If this does happen, do not be discouraged. Think positively and keep trying. It becomes easier with practice. Do keep doing the bladder training and the pelvic floor muscle exercises.

Bladder retraining programme

A useful way to measure progress is to use a bladder chart or diary. If you haven't been given a chart by your Doctor or Continence Advisor, you can draw one yourself using the following example.


Time Fluid Intake type/amount Urine Passed amount Leakage
7.00 am   200mls Damp
9.00 am Coffee/200mls    
9.30 am   70mls Damp
10.00 am Tea/250mls    
11.45 am   160mls  


The first step

Start by filling in the Bladder Chart for 2 - 4 days over a 24hr period.

Write down the type of fluid you drank, the volume and the time.

Write down the time you pass urine and the volume you pass.

Write down any accidental loss of urine

Note any bladder sensation proceeding the leakage episode

Over the following weeks

Try to gradually increase the time between the visits to the toilet

Each time you get the urge to go to the toilet, try to hold on for a few minutes longer.

If you wake up during the night with a strong desire to go to the toilet, it is reasonable to go and empty the bladder right away (unless advised otherwise.) As you improve by day you will gain confidence to practice the programme at night.

What if bladder training doesn't work?

If, after 4 - 6 weeks, the programme has not helped your bladder control problems, seek help. The best results are achieved by working with a health professional who is trained in dealing with bladder problems and who will design an individual programme especially suited to you.

How to seek help

There are health professionals qualified to help you with bladder control problems. You may seek advice from your GP or contact the free phone helpline. 0800 650 659