Self-Catheterization for Females

This information explains how to insert your catheter.

A catheter is a flexible tube that drains urine from your bladder. Your doctor has instructed you to insert your catheter yourself. You will do this by placing the catheter into your urethra, above your vagina (see Figure 1). Self-catheterization will allow you to drain your urine at home.

About Your Vulva

Vulva is another name for your external sex organs, or genitals (see Figure 1). Your vulva includes:

Figure 1. Your vulva
  • The inner and outer lips of your labia.
  • Your clitoris.
  • The opening of your vagina.
  • Your vaginal glands, which are in the area between your vulva and anus (the perineum).
  • Your urethral opening. This is the opening to your urethra (the tube that carries urine outside of your body).
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How to Insert Your Catheter

Most people do their self-catheterization in the bathroom, letting the urine drain into the toilet. You will get a container to collect your urine, in case you need to self-catheterize somewhere else.

Follow these instructions to help you insert your catheter:

  1. Clean your hands.
    • If you’re washing your hands with soap and water, wet your hands, apply soap, rub them together thoroughly for 15 seconds, then rinse. Dry your hands with a disposable towel, and use that same towel to turn off the faucet.
    • If you’re using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, be sure to cover all of your hands with it, rubbing them together until they’re dry.
  2. Gather your supplies on a clean surface. You will need:
    • Catheter
    • Water-based lubricant (such as K-Y Jelly®)
    • Paper towels
    • A mirror to help guide you
    • A container to collect your urine in, if you’re not able to catheterize in a bathroom.
  3. Clean your vulva with soap and water. Make sure to dry the area before catheterizing.
  4. Stand in front of or sit on a toilet. You can also insert your catheter in a private room using a container to collect your urine.
    • It may be helpful to use a mirror so that you can see your vulva. You may need someone else to hold the mirror for you.
    • If you stand, spread your legs or use a chair or the toilet to elevate 1 leg.
    • If you sit, elevate 1 leg or sit in a frog position. To use the frog position, bend your knees, place your feet together, and spread your knees apart. It is helpful to have a table or chair in front of the toilet to rest your feet on.
  5. Now you will insert the catheter into your urethra. Find your urethral opening just above your vagina and below your clitoris (see Figure 1).
  6. Lubricate the catheter and hold it in your dominant hand.
  7. Spread your labia with your other hand and pull upward.
  8. Insert the lubricated catheter into your urethra (see Figure 2). Make sure not to place the catheter into your vagina.
    • You can put a tissue, tampon, or a finger on your non-dominant hand into your vagina. This will prevent you from putting the catheter into your vagina.
    • You can also place a mirror in front of you so you can see your urethra and vagina.
      Figure 2. Inserting the catheter
  9. Push the catheter in until urine begins to drain. Hold the catheter in place until no more urine is draining.
  10. When the draining has stopped, slowly pull the catheter out. If you have used a tampon or tissue, remove it.
  11. You should use a new catheter each time you self-catheterize. If you have to use the same one, make sure to clean it with soap and water. Let it air dry on a clean surface. Once it’s dry, store the catheter in a clean place covered with a paper towel or in a zip lock bag.
  12. Clean your hands following the instructions in step 1.  

Remember to always carry an extra catheter with you in case of an emergency.

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After Inserting Your Catheter

  • Your urethra may feel irritated after you catheterize. This is normal.
  • You may have some bleeding during or after your catheterization.
    • Your urine may turn light orange due to this blood, so drink some water. This will flush your bladder.
  • You should use a new catheter each time you self-catheterize. Your nurse will let you know how to get new catheters for your next catheterization. If you have to, you can reuse the same catheter but it’s better to use a new one.
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Call Your Doctor or Nurse if You Have:

  • A temperature of 101° F (38.3ºC) or higher
  • Chills
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain on the sides of your body by your ribs
  • Trouble inserting or removing the catheter
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Any questions or concerns
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