Postpartum Bowel Movements and Changes

Julie Kirk
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Woman With Stomachache

After delivering a baby, it is not unusual to experience changes with your bowel movements. Most of these issues can be easily remedied, however, if that's not the case, you will need to consult your doctor.

What to Expect After Delivery

You may experience the following after delivery:

Trouble With Postpartum Bowel Movements

It is understandable to be anxious or apprehensive about your first bowel movement after delivering your baby. You actually may not experience your first postpartum bowel movement until a few days after delivery. This is normal. On the other end of the spectrum, you could have trouble controlling your bowels after a vaginal delivery especially if you had a long, difficult labor that could've weakened your pelvic floor muscles.

Postpartum Hemorrhoids

It is not unusual to experience hemorrhoids for the first time during pregnancy and after delivery. Hemorrhoids can occur due to changes in your body as your pregnancy progresses. The symptoms could include pain, itching, swelling, discomfort, and bleeding in the anal area. After delivery, hemorrhoids may be extremely sensitive. If you are avoiding bowel movements due to painful hemorrhoids, you may want to try a change in diet or a stool softener that will keep your stools soft and regular.

Postpartum Constipation

Constipation may be associated with your first postpartum bowel movement. You may experience constipation after delivery due to painful episiotomies, uncomfortable hemorrhoids and sore muscles that could make it difficult to push during a bowel movement. Constipation can also increase the symptoms of hemorrhoids and you may, unfortunately, experience both at the same time.

Postpartum Gas

If you experience excess gas after delivery there are a few reasons why this may occur. The pelvic floor muscles and nerves may stretch during pregnancy and delivery which may reduce the control you have over passing gas. An episiotomy may also take time to heal and weaken the pelvic floor leading to postpartum gas as well. Certain pain medications can cause constipation which can trap painful gas after delivery. Diet can also contribute to excess gas, therefore, it is always best to adhere to a balanced, healthy diet.

Bowel Movement After a C-Section

If you have a c-section, it can take up to five days to have your first postpartum bowel movement. One of the reasons why this may happen is when you have surgery, your bowels 'go to sleep' for 12 to 24 hours causing the intestinal contents to move much slower than normal. Another reason is that pain medications and iron supplements that are commonly given after a c-section can also affect your first bowel movement. If you have trouble with bowel movements or constipation after a c-section:

  • Wait until you have a bowel movement to start any iron supplements.
  • Take short walks which can help get things moving.
  • Try a heating pad on your abdomen.
  • Try ibuprofen for pain instead of narcotics that will cause constipation.

Incidentally, your c-section incision should not be affected by pushing during a bowel movement.

Bowel Movement After a Vaginal Delivery

If you have a vaginal delivery, you should have your first bowel movement within three days after delivery. You may have stitches from an episiotomy or some bruising from the birth that may cause you extreme nervousness about having a bowel movement. But if you drink plenty of water and eat high-fiber foods, it should make the process a little easier.

What You Can Do

A few suggestions that may help include:

If You Are Constipated or Having Trouble With Bowel Movements

If you are avoiding bowel movements out of fear of aggravating the pain of hemorrhoids or your episiotomy, you can do what's necessary to keep your stools soft and regular which include:

  • Trying to eat foods high in fiber such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Increase your water intake.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take a stool softener.
  • Try not to strain during bowel movements.

If You Have Hemorrhoids

If you have painful, itchy hemorrhoids, you can try the following:

  • Try applying an over-the-counter hemorrhoid cream or try using suppositories.
  • Use pads that contain witch hazel or a numbing agent on the anal area.
  • Try soaking the anal area in plain warm water for up to 15 minutes two times a day.

If You Have Gas

Gas, in general, is unpleasant but there are many things you can try to get some relief:

  • Drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.
  • Drinking warm liquids such as tea or warm lemon water every morning.
  • Getting as much rest as possible.
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fiber which includes bran, fruit, green vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Eating prunes which have a natural and mild laxative effect.
  • Taking mild laxatives or stool softeners.

When Should You Talk to Your Doctor

You should typically call your doctor if you have not had a bowel movement in the appropriate time frame after delivery if you've tried the standard remedies and they're not working or if you have abdominal or pelvic pain. Be reassured, if you are struggling with any of these postpartum issues, that they are temporary and in time, you should start feeling like yourself again.

Postpartum Bowel Movements and Changes