Constipation After Birth - Causes and Treatments

Woman holding stomach, cropped view
PhotoAlto/Alix Minde/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty Images

It really is not uncommon for moms to deal with constipation after birth. Constipation is just par for the course for most postpartum mothers during recovery. For some, they may be surprised to be dealing with constipation after a pregnancy where it had not been an issue. For others, constipation is nothing new.

What Can Cause Constipation After Birth:

This normal, yet annoying, discomfort can be caused by one of the several factors relating to what was happening to your body before, during, and/or after delivery.

Consider if any of these descriptions might fit what you experienced during delivery. The first 2 points have to do with the fact that your tummy was basically empty, the final 3 are a reflection of medical procedures you may have experienced.

  1. I had a long labor with little food. (See: Can I Eat During Labor?)
  2. I had a bowel movement or enema during labor.
  3. I had a c-section. (It can take up to 3-4 days for your digestive system to start working normally following this major surgery.)
  4. I used pain relievers during delivery, or I am using them currently for postpartum pain relief. (Particularly systemic narcotics can slow down the digestive tract).
  5. I have a sore perineum possibly caused by my episiotomy or by postpartum hemorrhoids. (In this case, most likely the constipation is not so much a physical problem as a mental one. You may fear tearing your stitches or fear more pain. That fear is causing you to retain your stool.)

    How Long Might Constipation Last:

    Depending on the root cause of your constipation and the steps you take to treat it, it is very likely that it will resolve within a few days of giving birth. The important thing is to be proactive in treating constipation and follow the steps below.

    How Can Postpartum Constipation Be Treated:

    In most cases, you can treat your constipation at home with successful results. Here are some simple tips you should follow to both treat and prevent constipation.

    • Eat well. High fiber foods can be your best defense. Foods such as whole grain cereals and whole grain breads, brown rice, beans, and fresh fruits and veggies are excellent fiber-rich foods.
    • Drink plenty of water, about 6-8 glasses a day. The fibery foods that you eat will absorb the water you drink, making your stools softer. (See also: Does Drinking Water Increase Breast Milk Supply?)
    • If you have the urge to go, don't ignore it. As much as you may be fearing more pain, holding on to a bowel movement will only make the stool harder. Go when you sense you need to.
    • Take a stroll. This may seem intimidating, particularly if you are recovering from a c-section, but a little bit of exercise (even at a slow pace), can help loosen your bowels.
    • Ask your caregiver if you should be taking a stool softener. If you've had a severe tear (third or fourth degree), in all likelihood you already started taking one. You may also need a softener if you are dealing with hemorrhoids, are taking iron supplements for anemia, or are on narcotics for pain relief.

      What About Hemorrhoids:

      Often times constipation and hemorrhoids go hand-in-hand. If you are straining to pass a movement or if your stool is hard, it will likely worsen your hemorrhoids. Though hemorrhoids generally aren't severe, they are certainly not a pleasure cruise. Treating hemorrhoids and following the above advice should clear things up for you within a week or two following the birth of your baby.

      When Should I Call a Doctor:

      In some cases, though not often, constipation is actually a symptom of a bigger problem. If your constipation persists or if you experience any of the additional symptoms below, contact your doctor or midwife immediately.

      • You are having severe stomach pain.
      • You are experiencing periods of both constipation and diarrhea.
      • You are passing mucous or blood in your stool.
      • You consider the rectal pain to be severe.
      • You have a troubling amount of rectal bleeding.

      Continue Reading