Even if you never had a problem with constipation during pregnancy, you may now. However, give yourself a few days after delivery before you start worrying about it.
If you had a long labor without food, bowel movements during labor, or an enema, you may go a day or two without defecating because there simply isn’t anything in your intestines. And if you had a c-section, it can take three or four days for your bowels to start functioning normally again.
If you continue to have problems moving your bowels after that, here is what may be going on:
- Systemic narcotics that you were given to ease discomfort during labor or that you are taking now for postpartum pain may be slowing down your digestive system.
- Having a sore perineum because of hemorrhoids, an episiotomy, or a tear may lead to constipation if fear of more pain or needless worry about putting strain on your stitches causes you to hold in your feces.
Your constipation is more likely to go away within a few days if you take steps to address the problem.
Here are some great tips for preventing and easing constipation:
- Never ignore the urge to move your bowels, even though it might be uncomfortable the first few times. The longer you wait, the harder your stool will get, which will only make your pain worse.
- Make an effort to eat high-fiber foods such as whole-grain cereals and breads, brown rice, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
- Drink plenty of water. A daily glass of fruit juice, especially prune juice, can be helpful. Some people find that drinking warm liquid soon after waking up helps get things moving.
- Go for a walk. Walking may be painful at first, especially if you’re recovering from a c-section or an episiotomy, but even a short trip around the block can help kick your sluggish bowels into gear.
- Ask your doctor or midwife whether you should take a stool softener (sold over the counter at any drugstore). You will need to start taking one right away if you have a tear that extends into or through your sphincter. Stool softeners are also helpful if you’re suffering from hemorrhoids, taking high-dose iron supplements for anemia, or narcotics for pain relief.
Diet can play a huge roll when it comes to constipation. Here are some more great tips focusing on just your diet.
- Brown: As in all those high-fiber grains you favored (hopefully) while you were expecting: whole-grain cereals, breads, brown rice, anything made with bran, oat bran, or flax seed.
- Try dry: Make a date with raisins, figs, dried apricots, and that senior favorite, prunes (now known by the less geriatric moniker “dried plums”). Toss your dried fruit with nuts for a good boost of omega-3s — and some extra constipation-fighting muscle.
- Be fresh: Nibble on crunchy fresh fruits and vegetables, and rough things up even more by leaving the skins on. Eat raw or lightly steamed (they should still go “crunch” when you bite into them).
- Beans: You’re likely to have a moving experience, plus less gas than you might have when you were expecting. Cook up a pot of legumes, such as lentils or black beans, and add them to soups, salsas, or salads.
- Lubrication: Splash a little olive oil on your fish, chicken, and pasta.
- Do not get in a bind: Avoid refined foods such as white rice and white bread, and go for the (whole) grain instead. Chocolate can be constipating, too (so trade that afternoon Snickers in for a handful of trail mix), as can bananas (munch on a crispy apple instead).
- Flush it out: Nothing unclogs like fluids, so be sure to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Some women find a cup of hot water flavored with lemon especially moving (try it first thing in the morning). Vegetable and fruit juices can help, too, especially prune juice.
- Fiber: If none of the above is working (or working well enough or fast enough), consider some serious fiber supplementation. Adding some straight-up wheat bran and/or psyllium can give your diet the bulk it needs. (Just don’t overdo it, and do not take your calcium foods with them since they can block absorption of that vital bone-building mineral.)
Constipation is not usually serious, but occasionally it can be a symptom of another problem. If you have severe constipation that is accompanied by abdominal pain, alternates with diarrhea, or you pass mucus or blood, call your doctor or midwife immediately.
Also, straining during a bowel movement or passing a hard stool can lead to or worsen hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins in the rectal area. Hemorrhoids can be extremely uncomfortable, though they rarely cause serious problems. In most cases, they go away fairly soon after the baby is born. However, if the pain is severe or you have rectal bleeding call your doctor or midwife so you can be evaluated.
Constipation can be uncomfortable and be bothersome when you are trying to adjust to life with a new baby. Make sure you ask for help and also focus on your eating and drinking so things do not get out of control.