Postpartum urinary retention: an expert review

Alexandra C. Nutaitis, Nicole A. Meckes, Annetta M. Madsen, Coralee T. Toal, Kimia Menhaji, Charelle M. Carter-Brooks, Katie A. Propst, Lisa C. Hickman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Postpartum urinary retention is a relatively common condition that can have a marked impact on women in the immediate days following childbirth. If left untreated, postpartum urinary retention can lead to repetitive overdistention injury that may damage the detrusor muscle and the parasympathetic nerve fibers within the bladder wall. In rare circumstances, postpartum urinary retention may even lead to bladder rupture, which is a potentially life-threatening yet entirely preventable complication. Early diagnosis and timely intervention are necessary to decrease long-term consequences. There are 3 types of postpartum urinary retention: overt, covert, and persistent. Overt retention is associated with an inability to void, whereas covert retention is associated with incomplete bladder emptying. Persistent urinary retention continues beyond the third postpartum day and can persist for several weeks in rare cases. Recognition of risk factors and prompt diagnosis are important for proper management and prevention of negative sequelae. However, lack of knowledge by providers and patients alike creates barriers to accessing and receiving evidence-based care, and may further delay diagnosis for patients, especially those who experience covert postpartum urinary retention. Nationally accepted definitions and management algorithms for postpartum urinary retention are lacking, and development of such guidelines is essential for both patient care and research design. We propose intrapartum recommendations and a standardized postpartum bladder management protocol that will improve patient outcomes and contribute to the growing body of evidence-based practice in this field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-21
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • bladder protocol
  • female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery
  • indwelling urethral catheter
  • intermittent self-catheterization
  • intrapartum bladder management
  • patient education
  • peripartum
  • postpartum bladder management
  • urogynecology


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