What Happens to Your Bladder When You Hold Your Pee?

bathroom urgency and discomfort from holding in pee

You know that uncomfortable “gotta go” feeling when you hold your pee? Sometimes, you “hold it in” because the bathroom is too far away. Other times, you wait on purpose.

when you ignore the urge to pee, you might have an accident in your pants

Simply put, the bladder is like a storage bag for your urine (pee). When it’s full, it needs to empty.

However, the process of planning bathroom breaks is a bit complicated. Your bladder has to communicate with your brain. Sometimes, they don’t agree about when to pee and when to hold it in!

How the brain and bladder plan bathroom breaks

When your bladder fills up, the bladder muscles stretch like a balloon to make room for more urine. Nerves from the bladder muscles send signals up your spinal to your brain.

In response, your brain sends messages to your bladder muscles to squeeze the urine out of the urethra. This is when you feel the “urge to pee.”

But wait! Not so fast! Another part of your brain controls the exit strategy from the bladder.

A ring-shaped sphincter muscle acts like a door for the urethra. Another part of your brain helps you decide whether to keep the muscles tight so you can hold in your urine.

Sometimes, your mind will think, “Hmm, I need to hold my pee. It’s not a good time to go.” Your brain and bladder work together so you can choose exactly when and where you pee.

How does the bladder hold your pee?

Watch this video to see how the urine flows from the ureters into the bladder. When the bladder fills up and the urethra’s sphincter muscles open up, the bladder can squeeze urine out of the urethra!

Where exactly is the bladder located in the human body?

The bladder sits in your pelvis between your hips, just below your belly, and above your legs. If you hold your pee, doctors can sometimes feel your full bladder in the lower belly.

The tube that takes urine out of the bladder is called the urethra.

HAVE YOU HEARD? After pooping in the bathroom, it’s a good idea to wipe your bottom from front to back.

This is because the opening of the urethra is very close to the anus, especially in girls and women. If you wipe from back to front, bacteria from poop can make its way to the wrong hole.

How big is the human bladder?

When your bladder is empty, it is about the same size and shape as a pear.

When you hold your pee, the bladder can stretch many inches longer depending on how much urine it collects.

How much urine can the bladder hold?

Most people can hold around 2 cups (about 500 milliliters) of urine. But even if you can “hold it” for a long time, it’s a good idea to empty your bladder throughout the day.

Doctors recommend going to the bathroom at least every 3 hours so your bladder doesn’t get overstretched.

An adult bladder can hold about 2 cups of urine. Don't ignore the urge to pee.

Why do kids hold their pee?

Sometimes, kids ignore their body signals because they’re having too much fun during a game or activity.

child saying no to bathroom

Maybe they are trying to avoid public restrooms. Or maybe they feel embarrassed about asking to pee.

Like kids, many adults have a habit of holding their pee too long.

They might feel stressed from a very busy work day or all the chores that must be done at home.

What can happen if you hold your pee?

Once in a while, it’s okay to wait a little longer. But if your bladder is constantly at max capacity, there are two common problems:

  1. The bladder muscle can get overstretched and weak. People who lose control of their bladder can accidentally leak pee on their pants.
  2. When you constantly hold your pee, urine sits in the bladder too long. As a result, bacteria can grow and multiply inside. This can cause an infection in your urinary tract.

3 Bathroom habits to keep your bladder healthy

  • EMPTY EARLY – Don’t ignore the urge to pee! Don’t wait until the last minute! The right time to go is when you start noticing your bladder getting full, and you have plenty of time to find a toilet.
  • EMPTY OFTEN: Go to the bathroom every 3-4 hours or around 4-8 times every day.
  • EMPTY ALL THE WAY – Make sure you get all of the pee out before rushing off to the next activity!

Learn more about how your bladder holds pee!

Renal system experiment from Human Body Learning Lab activity book for kids

From the kidneys down the ureters and then into the bladder, you can see how your bladder holds pee and how pee flows out of it. Check out a fun and simple activity on page 100 in the Human Body Learning Lab book!

Human Body Learning Lab is filled with kid-friendly science facts, memorable experiments, diverse realistic images, and practical health tips.

Have fun learning about your body!

Learn more about your amazing pee and poop!

Human Body Learning has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on information from peer-reviewed research studies, academic institutions, and medical associations.

Published on March 13, 2022. Updated on January 23, 2024 by Betty Choi, MD

Published on March 13, 2022. Updated on January 23, 2024 by Betty Choi, MD

Dr. Betty Choi pediatrician

Betty Choi, MD

Dr. Betty Choi is a Harvard-trained pediatrician who makes learning fun and doable. She created the kids’ anatomy book Human Body Learning Lab, which Science Magazine recommended as a “notable standout in the genre.”