To Hold it or Not: That is the Question

To Hold it or Not: That is the Question

Maybe you want to avoid using the port-a-potty at a rock concert. Or you’d like to get some miles behind you rather than visit the rest stop on your cross-country trip. Or maybe you just don’t want to get out of bed when duty calls in the middle of the night.

We’ve all “held it” before, for whatever reason. But does holding off on urinating do any damage to our bodies? And what about the notion that your bladder can actually explode if you hold it too long — is there any truth to that?

Though it’s something most people don’t think about often, how the bladder works is pretty remarkable. Before a child is potty trained, a simple reflex controls the timing of urination. A layer of smooth muscle lines the bladder, and as the bladder fills with urine, the muscle stretches.

The stretch signals the spinal cord to tell the bladder muscles to contract and the urethra (the tube that brings urine out of the body) and pelvic muscles to relax. These changes allow urine to exit a baby’s body. Babies can’t control the process — which, of course, is why they wear diapers.

As a baby grows, the bladder enlarges and can hold more urine. The child also learns to sense when the bladder is filling, and to control the muscles of the bladder, urethra, and pelvis. Eventually, the child can reliably decide when and where to “go”.

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