Most women would experience constipation postpartum even if they did not have it during pregnancy. Hemorrhoids, pregnancy hormones, surgical incision and iron supplements are the major reasons for postpartum constipation, as they lead to damage of pelvic floor muscles or anal sphincter during labor (1). MomJunction tells you the causes of postpartum constipation and ways to ease the condition.
What Are The Causes Of Postpartum Constipation?
As said above, this annoying discomfort is due to any of the factors taking place before, during or after pregnancy.
- If you had a long labor without food, or had bowel movements during labor, or had an enema, you may suffer from constipation for a day or two. All these conditions make your intestines empty and, therefore, cause constipation.
- If you had a cesarean section, it might take three to four days for your bowel to function normally.
- High progesterone levels due to hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause chronic constipation after delivery.
- Systemic narcotics (such as pethidine and diamorphine) (2) given to ease the discomfort during labor or pain relievers for postpartum pain, will slow down the bowel movements.
- If you are breastfeeding, you will be taking prenatal vitamins, which may also cause constipation. You should check with your doctor so that she can suggest you a less constipation causing formula.
- The iron supplements taken while you are pregnant are also a cause for this condition.
- Delivery through forceps or ventouse method can also cause bowel issues leading to constipation.
- A severe tear during delivery.
- An episiotomy (incision made in the perineum) can cause sore perineum, which may lead to constipation.
- Digestive system slows down during labor and could continue even after delivery.
How Long Does Postpartum Constipation Last?
In most of the cases, constipation will end within a few days if you take proper steps to treat the problem. It all depends on the cause of your constipation and how you treat it. The most important thing is to be proactive and follow the steps correctly.
How To Ease Constipation After Delivery?
1. Rich Fiber Diet:
High fiber foods (3) can be your best defenses against constipation as they help improve your bowel movements. Include foods like whole grain cereals and bread, beans, brown rice, fresh fruits, and vegetables in your everyday diet.
Legumes, navy beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and soybeans add soluble fiber to your diet and help the bowel movements become regular. Take these in combination with other foods to prevent excess gas.
2. Consume Plenty Of Water:
Fluids can make your feces softer and easier to pass out of the body. The atmosphere in the hospital will be dry, and you will quickly get dehydrated without even realizing it. Even while you are breastfeeding, you will often feel thirsty, so you need to consume lots of water. Drink at least six to eight glasses of water every day. Also, drinking warm liquids soon after you wake up from sleep helps you move on normally.
3. Consume Prunes or Prune Juice:
Prunes or prune juice will help treat constipation. Also known as dried plum, this fruit is rich in dietary fiber with five fruits having almost 3g of fiber. They also contain sorbitol, a natural laxative which eases bowel movements. Also, findings from a study published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, say that eating prunes will increase the frequency of bowel movements per week, softens feces (4).
[ Read: Post Pregnancy Diet ]
4. Dry Fruits:
Fix a date each for figs, raisins, dried apricots, and prunes. You can toss these dried fruits with nuts to have a healthy boost of omega-3s to fight constipation.
5. Go For A Stroll:
Take a walk, moving your body helps move your bowels. Walking may be painful in the beginning if you are recovering from an episiotomy or a C-section. So begin this when you are comfortable and have short strolls to make your sluggish bowels work properly. Sitting or lying down for long periods will aggravate constipation.
6. Stool Softeners:
You can ask your doctor or midwife for stool softeners. These are usually prescribed when you are suffering from hemorrhoids or severe tear at the sphincter. They also work if you are on a high dosage of narcotics for pain relief or iron supplementation for anemia.
[ Read: Postpartum Hemorrhage ]
7. Brestfeed Your Baby:
This can help relieve constipation. When a baby is sucking, it stimulates the uterus to contract and helps in easy bowel movements.
8. Avoid Processed Foods:
Foods like doughnuts, white bread, potato chips, unripe bananas, chocolate, fast-food burgers and sausages should be avoided. Also, avoid foods high in sugars and fats like cheese, ice-cream, and dairy products as they aggravate or cause constipation after c-section.
9. Do Not Ignore The Urge To Move Bowels:
When you have the urge to go to the toilet, do not restrain yourself from going. The stool gets harder if you wait long, and it will make the pain worse. Sit properly on the toilet seat and do not hover or perch over it.
A tear or a C-section or stitches may create a fear of more pain and you will restrain from passing stools. But, should you really worry about pooping?
[ Read: Six-Week Postpartum Checkup ]
Does It Hurt When You Poop?
You should stop worrying as it doesn’t hurt much when you poop after your delivery. The perineum, which is the area between the vagina and anus, will usually become numb as your nerves in and around the vagina stretch during the labor process. So, your first poop may not be painful.
Once the nerves in the perineal region recover, you will start feeling the pain when you poop. It is because the pelvic floor muscles and perineum move down while you are pushing the stool.
But the anxiety about pooping after labor can make things bad. When you get anxious, the back passage tightens rather than open. To overcome this, distract yourself by reading a book or a newspaper while you are on the commode.
You Can Follow These Steps When Going To Loo:
- Sit properly on the toilet seat and do not hover or perch over it.
- Tip your toes while sitting so as to raise your knees higher than your hips. You can use a small chair or a stool to raise your knees and rest your elbows on them. It resembles a squatting position, which is ideal for bowel movements.
- Now move down and sit erect until your stomach muscles start working. When you do this, you can feel that they are tightening and relaxing.
- Do not worry that your stitches may tear when you are answering the nature call. Fold a sanitary pad in half and place it over your stitches or perineum region. It supports your pelvic area and can give you the confidence that your stitches will not open.
- Using the pad will stop pelvic floor muscles and perineum from moving down and relieve pain due to the tear.
- Apply light pressure to perineum stimulate a reflex and improve the muscle tone in the rectal region. This pushes out the stools quickly.
[ Read: How To Cure Postpartum Rectal Bleeding ]
Exercises That May Help Relieve Postpartum Constipation:
Forcing or pushing will not help (5) with constipation as they can only cause soreness. There are some bracing and bulging exercises, which may assist you without putting any pressure on your body.
Place your hands on your tummy.
- Pull in your tummy muscles so that your stomach flattens and waist widens. It is known as bracing.
- Now push the tummy muscles out into your hands and you will notice that you make an “ugh” sound while doing this. It is known as bulging.
- Do around ten braces and bulges, and then finish the exercise with a long bulge that lasts for three to five seconds.
- While doing the final bulge, try relaxing your pelvic floor. You will feel your bowel opening soon after the bulge.
- If this doesn’t help, try doing a few more.
- You can also do some pelvic floor exercises to relieve constipation.
[ Read: Benefits Of Postnatal Exercises ]
Laxatives To Relieve Constipation:
If you find no relief even after three days, you should check with your doctor. She may suggest laxatives (6) to stimulate your gastrointestinal tract’s natural rhythm. They offer short-term relief but can sometimes lead to mild stomach cramps.
Your doctor may start with a liquid laxative which you can swallow. If this too does not work, after three to four days she may give you laxative suppository, which can be inserted into your bottom.
Remember: Never buy laxatives over the counter. Always go to a doctor because your requirement will depend on whether you are breastfeeding or taking any other medications.
When Should You Worry About Constipation After Childbirth?
Postpartum constipation is treatable. This is not a serious complication but sometimes it is an indication of other medical conditions.
If severe constipation is associated with bouts of diarrhea, abdominal pain, or presence of mucus or blood in feces, you should immediately check with your doctor.
Constipation can aggravate other digestive conditions like hemorrhoids (swollen and inflamed veins in the rectum and anus). Passing a hard stool or straining during a bowel movement will worsen hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids are usually experienced during pregnancy, and they disappear once the pelvic pressure is relieved after delivery. Though they are rare, they cause extreme pain and rectal bleeding, which requires immediate medical attention. Piles or anal fissures can aggravate constipation. It is better you should check with your doctor if you have them.
Do you know any other ways to alleviate constipation after pregnancy? Share your ideas in our comment section.
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