While awaiting the big day—the one I’d dreamed about my entire life—the moment my first child was to be born, I obsessed over all things pregnancy. Specifically, over everything related to labor and delivery. I read article after article about breastfeeding and bottle feeding, vaginal births and C-sections. I dreamt about epidurals and whether I’d have a big baby, little baby, or medium baby. I worried about NICUs and episiotomies and tearing. And I panicked, daily, that my water would break at work while I stood in front of a classroom of teenagers, teaching Shakespearean literature.
There was one thing, however, that I didn’t worry about until after my son entered the world. One thing that hadn’t really entered my mind until it was time to do it, at which point it became the most terrifying thing imaginable. The impossible. Too overwhelming to bear.
But looking back, I realize that it was sort of the last official “rite of passage”—the final step in my labor and delivery journey before they’d officially hand me my tiny bundle, pat me on my head, and send me home to be a mom IRL.
I had to make a postpartum poop.
After a 24-hour labor that resulted in pushing out a 9 + lb. baby who tore through my nethers like a rabid banshee breaking free from a cage, everything in me seized up in horror when the nurse told me I should try to poop.
Ummmm…. NO. Not happening. The trauma that my body had just endured was viscerally fresh in my mind. I didn’t know what in the hell my vagina looked like, but I was surviving on a continuous rotation of fresh ice-diapers, numbing spray, and a squirt bottle, so the thought of pushing out an actual poop AND WIPING MYSELF was an impossibility. Not doing it. I’m never pooping again and I don’t care what anyone says, I thought to myself.
Thankfully my nurse (read: angel from heaven named Crystal) had dealt with many first-timers in her day. She knew I was scared. But she also knew I needed to do it. Because holding in your poop isn’t good for anyone, especially newly recovering moms. So she offered me some tips and tricks—like the fact that stool softeners are a postpartum mom’s BEST FRIEND—and she also told me that “bowel movement issues” (as she called them in nurse-talk) were extremely common after birth, that nothing was wrong with me, and that she knew I was scared, but that I was going to be okay.
Just like in birth, she told me, my body knew what to do.
Because the truth is, lots of women struggle with constipation after having a baby—and not just because they pushed out a human watermelon for the first time either.
“So many things affect postpartum bowel movements, including hormones, what you are eating, and how much you are drinking,” Christine Masterson, M.D., chief of the women and children’s service line at Summit Medical Group in New Jersey, explains. “Infection, a virus, or a reaction to antibiotics used in the hospital could all affect your bowel movements as well.”
Also, your body just went through a lot. Like, a lot a lot. As explained on Verywell Family, things like your uterus contracting back down to its normal size, having your pelvic floor stretched (and also pummeled), and all of the hormonal shifts our bodies endure can affect our bowels’ normal functionality.
And then, of course, there’s hemorrhoids too on top of everything else! Good Lord, pregnancy and birth is fun.
But whatever labor, delivery, and postpartum journey you’ve had (or are having), at some point, you have to get that shit out (literally), even though you might be anxious about it.
For example, by the grace of God, I escaped all three of my pregnancies and vaginal deliveries without the dreaded “hemorrhoid postpartum parting hospital gift.” But I did have giant babies and stitches. So yes, I used Tucks pads and numbing spray and squirt bottles. And whatever angel invented ice diapers—you are a godsend because those suckers are life-changing, especially during the first few days.
So even though I had relatively “uneventful” deliveries (if you can call bringing a human into the world that), I struggled, particularly after my first, to make that initial poop. Mostly because I was in a lot of pain and mentally still saying, “WTF just happened down there?”
Verywell Family describes it perfectly: “After you give birth, your vaginal area may feel like a battlefield.” Seriously, how accurate is that? Because even though you’re not sure yet if you won or lost, you know there’s a lot of blood and clean up to do.
Thankfully, my nurse gave me stool softeners pretty quickly after my son was born. And she also encouraged lots of water and fibrous foods. Basically the goal was to make that shit soft and just sliiiiiiide right on out. I mean, you’ve done enough pushing by this point, amiright?! (And if you’ve given birth via C-section, having your poop be soft-serve is just as important as you’re trying to let your stomach and lower half stay relaxed so you can heal.)
Likely, your nurses, like mine, will provide postpartum, pro-poop tips for you after baby arrives. But in case you’re back home (or had a home birth and have always been home) and thing still aren’t… well, moving along… here are some ideas you can try, courtesy of Birth & Beyond Doula Services:
1. Make foods with fiber your new best friend. Foods that are high in fiber include lentils, raspberries, prunes, avocado, oatmeal (which is also great if you’re breastfeeding) and bran cereals.
2. Relax. (I know, I know. We all hate being told to relax.) But if you’re like I was after having my first, you’re terrified of the first poop, so take some deep breaths and try relaxation techniques like mindfulness, soothing music, and meditation to get your body less tense.
3. Put your feet up on a stool—a better angle helps get things moving!
4. Use a stool softener! They’re different from laxatives. They’re not going to make you have to run to the bathroom in 10 minutes, ready to burst (we know you’re moving slowly right now, as you should be). They merely “soften” everything (hence the name), which means you shouldn’t have to push very hard. If you just relax, breathe, and let gravity take over, your body will likely do what it needs to do.
Parents reiterates the importance of drinking lots of water too. Not only for keeping the bowels going, but also to help your body recover overall. Furthermore, if you’re breastfeeding, it’s crucial that you keep yourself hydrated.
Christy Dibble, D.O., director of the Center for Women’s Gastrointestinal Health at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, in Providence, says breastfeeding moms should aim for 10-12 glasses a day instead of eight. And, Parents adds, “This advice is also important if you’re upping your fiber intake. Without extra water, fiber can actually make constipation worse and cause gas, bloating, and reflux.”
Water, water, water, folks. Drink it up. Your body needs it.
Furthermore, once you’re able to get up and move around safely and comfortably, that will help get things going as well. The digestive system works better when the body is active. However, make sure to listen to your doc and your body on this one, as too much physical activity too soon can be harmful to your healing process.
“Physical activity increases blood and oxygen flow to all organs, including the gut, which is why sedentary people have higher rates of constipation,” says Toyia James-Stevenson, M.D., a gastroenterologist at IU Health in Indianapolis.
Parents goes on to say that “it’s hard to fit in exercise when you’re sleep deprived and on 24/7 mom duty, but you don’t have to run a marathon to see results. Pushing a stroller or a playground swing counts, as does gentle stretching. Your goal can be getting off the couch as often as possible for postpartum constipation relief.”
Listen, I’ve been there. I know it’s scary. Just when you think, “Okay, I’ve done it. I pushed the baby out. The hardest part is over,” your doc tells you to cop a squat. WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK?! HAVEN’T I DONE ENOUGH?!
But yeah, at some point (maybe not day 1, but eventually), your body needs to start passing stool again. It’s actually going to be okay—I promise. That fateful first poop was 13 years ago for me, and I lived to tell the tale. (And I went on to spit out two more kids!)
Just breathe, and let that shit go. Literally.