Women's Health

Your guide to postpartum poops: Why your bowel movements might change after birth

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So, you've just given birth and life as you know it has changed. What you may not have expected, however, was that your poops could change too!

It's normal to experience a change in your bowel movements after giving birth.

Whether you've had a vaginal birth or C-section, the first bowel movement after labour will require a little care.

For many, it can be a little scary. But not to worry — we're here to help! Here's what you can expect.

How long does it take to poop after giving birth?

Your first postpartum bowel movement can happen the same day you give birth or up to four days after. It all depends on the individual.

Having said that, constipation is very likely and happens to most women.

The reasons for this are multiple and varying: From nerves to bodily changes.

Needless to say, if it doesn't happen for you right away, no need to stress... for a few days, at least.

If you haven't had your first poop after four days, it could be time to call your doctor or midwife.

How do bowel movements change after having a baby?

There is no standard rule for everyone but many women report difficulty having a bowel movement after giving birth.

For both vaginal and C-section deliveries, a few days of constipation is considered normal even.

You may experience one (or more) of:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Faecal incontinence.

For those with mild cases of constipation and/or haemorrhoids, there's a good chance you'll be problem-free in a number of days.

Other issues can take longer depending on the cause and severity.

Beyond these initial troubles, it is also common for mothers to report having a hard and lumpy stool over the first weeks postpartum.

While not necessarily a cause for concern, this can be painful for the mother and should be remedied via drinking plenty of water and consuming more fibre.

Why do bowel movements change after having a baby?

The first poo after birth can be a surprise in both good and bad ways. Chances are, it won't be as simple as your last poop before giving birth.

Beyond the obvious stress your body has just endured, what's behind this change?

Fear

Whether realised or subconscious, anxiety related to your 'downstairs' is highly likely after giving birth.

If you had a vaginal birth, your vagina, rectum, pelvic floor and a range of other muscles and organs have experienced a degree of trauma during the birth. It's fair to be a little nervous about further action in that arena.

Meanwhile, if you've had a caesarean, you could also be worried about passing a bowel movement and popping a stitch in your abdomen (which we're assured isn't likely, especially if you don't push, which you shouldn't be doing anyway).

These factors can cause apprehension around pooping — especially that first bowel movement — resulting in constipation.

Diet

Your first postpartum poop can also be delayed due to diet. For starters, you may not have eaten for a while before the birth, especially if you had a long labour.

You will also need to pay special attention to your diet to help your stool along postpartum. Consider a high fibre menu, with plenty of:

  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Vegetables, particularly leafy greens
  • Wholemeal and whole grains.

Many women also forget to DRINK PLENTY OF WATER. With everything going on, it can be easy to forget!

However, breastfeeding is tiring and dehydrating work, so you'll also want to be drinking even more water than you were prior to having your baby.

Ideally, drink a minimum of one and a half to two litres per day. A good tip is to always keep a glass of water or drink bottle nearby while you're breastfeeding, and drink as you go.

Weakened muscles

Weakened pelvic floor muscles and tired abs can also affect bowel movements. Changes to your muscles could contribute to either constipation or faecal incontinence.

People who have given birth via C-section can also experience constipation for a few days postpartum while their "gut motility resumes", the NSW Royal Hospital for Women states.

There's a good chance, however, your body could just be tired and need a little rest before using the toilet.

Hormone changes

Hormone changes can also potentially affect your bowel movements. Hormones can wreak havoc on our digestive system and bowel function at the best of times.

So, given the hormonal 'drama' of having a baby, it's not unlikely that your hormones might cause an interruption.

The stress hormone, cortisol, has a known influence on bowel movements, and can make them either more or less frequent.

Medicines or supplements

Some drugs involved in childbirth can also cause constipation or diarrhoea, particularly strong painkillers.

Some postnatal supplements, like iron supplements, can also contribute to irregularities.

Do you wipe after the first postpartum poop?

Wiping is not recommended after giving birth vaginally.

Even if no major tears were sustained, the area is likely to be quite inflamed and tender, and rubbing it — even gently — with dry toilet paper is not ideal.

There are far better ways to go about cleaning yourself at this time, we promise!

To start, get yourself a peri bottle. This handy little contraption is like a handheld bidet. It is made up of a squeezy bottle with an angled spout that allows you to easily spray your privates after using the toilet.

Furthermore, if you have any vaginal tears, a peri bottle is a great accessory to help relieve stinging when you urinate. (Fun fact: Kin's Peri Bottle is easily portable and comes with a carry bag for ease and discretion.)

Baby wipes, haemorrhoid pads or other wet towel-like products are also better than toilet paper. (Just remember not to flush them down your loo!)

If you've given birth via C-section, you may be able to wipe if you didn't also attempt a vaginal delivery at the time.

If you first tried giving birth vaginally, you may still suffer soreness and swelling in the region.

Is it normal to bleed when you poop after birth?

Blood in your stool can be normal after giving birth.

This can be a sign of haemorrhoids or a tear in your rectum — both of which can be normal after having a baby.

Haemorrhoids are common in pregnancy and after birth, and mild cases may take care of themselves after a few days.

More moderate to severe cases will take longer to heal.

To aid the process and to reduce pain or complications, use a peri bottle, haemorrhoid cream, stool softeners (if advised), fibre supplements and wet wipes.

You can also try icing or soaking the area. A sitz bath and Epsom salts can be handy for this.

If there is a significant amount of blood in your stool postpartum, talk to your doctor to make sure everything is A-okay.

The Sitz Bath by Kin is designed to relieve tender and sensitive skin during the postpartum period.

How can you make your first postpartum poop easier?

To make a postpartum bowel movement easier, you'll first want to try to make your stool softer by increasing your intake of water and high fibre foods.

You can also take supplements or even a stool softener, if required.

According to the Royal Women's Hospital of Victoria, there are helpful positioning techniques. These include:

  • Lean forward when you sit, placing your elbows on your knees. Relax your stomach.
  • Place your feet on a footstool, making sure your knees are above your hips.
  • Exhale deeply, sigh or hiss as you make a bowel movement. This helps improve your breathing and the goal is to not hold your breath.
  • Hold your stitches with your hand and a pad or toilet paper.

Making pooping easier may also involve caring for your body through rest, pain medication, icing your vagina or rectum, or soaking these areas in water.

This can be made easier by having the right tools, like the Kin Sitz Bath. The Sitz Bath is a small basin that can be placed over your toilet.

You fill the tub with warm water and Sitz Salts before sitting in it, allowing it to soak your affected area.

This not only helps relieve pain but, thanks to the anti-inflammatory effects of Epsom salts, can improve healing.

How do you poop with stitches after giving birth?

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RANZCOG) says it is unlikely you will rip your stitches during a regular bowel movement.

However, you will still want to give yourself that extra help by guaranteeing a soft stool.

You can seek help from pharmaceutical stool softeners and fibre supplements if you are worried your regular diet and water intake are insufficient.

RANZCOG also suggests gently holding a clean pad over the stitches for extra support.

Whatever you do, don't push too hard and apply unnecessary pressure to the area.

Is postpartum diarrhoea normal?

Experiencing diarrhoea postpartum can happen.

The cause may not be related to pregnancy or birth at all but could be a bug picked up at the hospital or a result of stool softeners if you took these to counter constipation.

However, due to the wear and tear of rectal and pelvic floor muscles during childbirth, you may find you have faecal incontinence, i.e. leaking of faecal matter.

This is not diarrhoea and will require a different treatment strategy.

Faecal incontinence has a range of remedies and can often fix itself as your muscles become stronger postpartum.

If you've had a caesarean, medication can occasionally alter bowel movements and may give some women diarrhoea.

When does postpartum pooping get easier?

Pooping should get easier as you heal and your body recovers.

If there are no compounding complications, you should rebound and regulate within a few days to a week.

If you are still having painful bowel movements a week or two postpartum, talk to your doctor.

When to seek help about your postpartum bowel movements

Having difficulty pooping after birth can be normal, however, there are exceptions that will require medical attention.

You should have a routine postnatal checkup two to six weeks after birth where you can discuss any issues.

However, if you are experiencing severe pain, excessive bleeding, blood in your stools or prolonged or alternating constipation or diarrhoea, you should seek medical advice more urgently.

Severe abdominal cramps and bloating in the two to 12 days postpartum could potentially be a symptom of bowel obstruction or Ogilvie's Syndrome.

This can occur in women regardless of delivery method but can be more prevalent in those who have delivered via caesarean.

If you haven't had a bowel movement more than four days postpartum, contact your doctor.

References

The First Few Weeks Following Birth, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Improving Your Recovery After Birth, Royal Women's Hospital Victoria

Your Body After the Birth, NHS

Faecal Incontinence, Royal Women's Hospital Victoria

Constipation in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, The Royal Hospital for Women

Ogilvie's Syndrome, Better Care Victoria