Jan 03, 2011 No Comments
The passage of the first postpartum bowel movement is a milestone every newly delivered woman is anxious to put behind her (so to speak). And the longer it takes you to get past that milestone, the more anxious – and the more uncomfortable – you’re likely to become.
Several physiological factors may interfere with the return of bowel-business-as-usual after delivery. For one thing, the abdominal muscle that assist in elimination have been stretched during childbirth, making them flaccid and sometimes temporarily ineffective. For another, the bowel itself may have taken a beating during delivery, leaving it sluggish. And, of course, it may have been emptied before or during delivery (remember that diarrhea you had prelabor? The poop that you squeezed out during pushing?), and probably stayed pretty empty because you didn’t eat much solid food during labor.
But perphaps the most potent inhibitors of postpartum bowel activity are psychological: worry about pain; theunfounded fear that you’ll split open any stitches; concern that you’ll make your hemorrhoids worse; the natural embarrassment over lack of privacy in the hospital or birthing center; and the pressure to: “perform,” which often makes performance all the more elusive.
Just because postpartum constipation is common, though, doesn’t mean you can’t fight it. Here are some steps you can take to get things moving again:
- Don’t worry. Nothing will keep you from moving your bowels more effectively than worrying about moving your bowels. Don’t worry about opening the stitches – you won’t. Finally, don’t worry if it takes a few days to get things moving – that’s okay, too.
- Request roughage. If you’re still in the hospital or birthing center, select as many whole grains (especially brancereal) and fresh fruit and vegetables from the menu as you can. Since those pickings may be slim, supplement with bowel-stimulating food brought in from outside, such as apples and pears, raisins and other dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and bran muffins. If you’re home, make sure you’re eating regularly and well – and that you’re getting your fill of fiber. As much as you can, stay away from bowel-clogging foods (like those gift boxes of chocolates that are likely piling up on your bedstand or coffee table-tempting but, sadly, constipating).
- Keep the liquid coming. Not only do you need to compensate for fluids you lost during labor and delivery,you need to take in additional liquids to help soften stool; if you’re clogged up. Water’s always a winner, but you may also find apple or prune juice especially effective. Hot water with lemon can also do the trick.
- Chew, chew, chew. Chewing gum stimulates digestive reflexes for some people and could get your system back to normal, so grab a strick of gum.
- Get off your bottom. An inactive body encourages inactive bowels. You won’t be running laps the day after delivery, but you will be able to take short strolls up an down the halls. Kegel exercises, which can be practiced in the bed almost immediately after delivery, will help tone up not only the perineum but also the rectum. At home, take walks with baby; also.
- Don’t strain. Straining won’t break open any stitches you have, but it can lead to or aggravate hemorrhoids. If you already have hemorrhoids, you may find relief with sitz baths, topical anesthetics, witch hazel pads, suppositories, or hot or cold compresses.
- Use stool softeners. Many hospitals send women home with both a stool softener and a laxative, for good reason. Both can help get you going.
The first few bowel movements may be a pain to pass, literally. But fear not. As stools soften and you become more regular, the discomfort will ease and eventually end-and moving your bowels will become second nature once again.