Life with an overactive bladder isn’t easy. When you frequently struggle to control urination urges and leakage, it may seem like your bladder is in charge of things. But chances are it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take steps now to help teach your bladder to do what you want—not what it wants.

What is bladder training?

Bladder training is a catchall term for a variety of simple exercises and techniques designed to help restore bladder control. Here are some proven ideas that have helped others.

Get up and go. Start the day with an empty bladder. This sets the stage for successfully timing bathroom breaks throughout the day.

Start a routine. To establish a normal bathroom schedule, train your bladder to empty at the same times every day. Decide with your doctor how far apart those times should be. It may help to keep a bathroom diary for a few days beforehand, to identify your usual patterns. The goal will be to gradually lengthen the time between your bathroom visits to perhaps three or four hours.

Stick to your schedule. Once you’re on a schedule, don’t urinate until it’s time—and empty your bladder on schedule even if you don’t feel the urge. If you need to urinate before it’s time, try:

• Sitting down until the urge passes
• Doing Kegel exercises, alternately tightening and relaxing the muscles you use to stop urinating.
• Distracting yourself
• Deep breathing or other relaxation techniques

Try to wait. With strong urges, try to wait a few more minutes; it will help your bladder learn that you are reclaiming control. Then go to the bathroom if you must, but resume your schedule immediately and go again as soon as it’s time.

Don’t wait too long. Trying to hold in urine indefinitely when your bladder is really full won’t help. A full bladder can stretch, and that could make overactive bladder symptoms worse.

Take the nights off. Don’t worry about a schedule for your sleeping hours. Only visit the bathroom during the night if you need to. It’s a good idea to limit fluids in the last hours before bed, and empty your bladder before you retire for the night.

Call in a coach. Did you know there are specialists who can help with bladder training? If you’re not getting results, consider asking your doctor for a referral to a continence nurse practitioner or a physical therapist with experience in bladder training.

Don’t be discouraged. Results may take weeks or even months, and there may be setbacks along the way, but don’t give up: most people who stick with bladder training see significant and measurable results.

Symptoms and circumstances vary from person to person, so work with your doctor to adapt these tips to your needs. And don’t think that there is nothing else you can do about overactive bladder. Talk with your doctor about medications and other options. Finding the right treatments can help you get back to doing whatever you enjoy without worrying about getting to the bathroom in time.

To learn more about overactive bladder:
Overactive Bladder? 8 Lifestyle Changes to Help Reduce Symptoms
Testing for Overactive Bladder
5 Tips to Avoid Irritation from Overactive Bladder