Going to the bathroom to open your bowels after birth for the first time can be a worrisome prospect for many new mothers.
One of the reasons for this is the lack of knowledge and information available on the topic, it’s not something many friends or family talk about, or share their experiences of! Thanks to the rise of social media and blogging, things are starting to change and there is certainly more women sharing their post birth experiences online to help better prepare other expectant mothers, especially when it comes to the topic of opening bowels.
It is quite common not to empty your bowels for a few days after birth, even if you have previously been very regular. There are lots of factors that contribute to this; you are likely to have an empty bowel after a vaginal birth and may have had little to eat during the labour, or you may have been fasting prior to a caesarean section and may not have felt up to eating until quite some time post-operatively. Your abdomen, pelvic floor and pelvic organs are still recovering after the delivery; swelling, stretching and compression of these areas can affect their function for a few days after birth too. You are also busy caring for your newborn and may not be eating your normal diet or keeping up your fluid intake as you usually would at home.
Many women worry about whether their bowel action will be painful or whether it will damage their stitches if they have had a perineal tear or episiotomy repaired. Stitches in the perineum are secure and it is safe to open your bowels whenever you feel the urge following the delivery. However it is understandable to feel vulnerable about this part of your body after birth and there are some simple tips to make the first (and following!) bowel movements a more comfortable and less anxiety provoking post-birth experience.
1)Eat plenty of fibre:
Fibre keeps your stool soft and easy to pass, women require approximately 28 – 30 grams of this every day. Fibre is found in fruit and vegetables as well as grains, cereals and legumes. Some women may take a fibre supplement to ensure they are meeting their needs.
2) Drink enough fluid:
Drink between 1.5 – 2 litres of fluid each day, everyone’s individual needs differ slightly so it is important to monitor your feelings of thirst and colour of urine to make sure that you are not too dehydrated or even drinking too much. Your fluid intake includes all of the fluids you have including tea, coffee, juice, though mostly water is encouraged as part of a healthy diet.
3) Get moving!
Regular exercise is very important for healthy bowel routines. You will need to take things slowly in the first few days after birth, but even regular short walks can keep the bowel functioning well.
4) Don’t ignore the urge:
When you feel the urge to go, it is important to listen to your body and make time to go to the bathroom. If you defer this urge, the stool sits in the rectum and water is reabsorbed, leaving the stool to get firmer and harder to pass with time.
5. Think about optimal toilet posture:
Sit leaning forward on the toilet with your elbows on your knees, your knees raised above your hips (using a foot stool) and your tummy muscles soft and relaxed. Fold a pad or some toilet paper and support the perineum with your hand, this will help you to relax the pelvic floor muscles and back passage more comfortably.
6) Avoid straining:
If you still feel constipated you should speak to your midwife or doctor about using a stool softener.
We recommend booking an appointment with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist if you are interested in learning more about supporting your own postnatal recovery process.
Kate Phillips, myPhysioSA for Her Clinical Director and Women’s Health Senior Physiotherapist