Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy and delivery. Those changes don’t necessarily stop once your baby is born. Along with vaginal bleeding, breast engorgement, and night sweats, you may have painful or uncontrollable gas.
Here are some causes of postpartum gas, what you can do about it at home, and when to call your doctor.
Is postpartum gas normal?
If you’re experiencing gas after pregnancy, you’re not alone. Though you might not have read about this condition in the medical books, many women report that they are gassier than normal after giving birth.
There are several different things that may cause gas in the postpartum period.
Pelvic floor damage
Your pelvic floor had a lot of strain put on it during your pregnancy. At delivery, you stretch and may even tear the anal sphincter muscles. This damage can lead to anal incontinence. About half of the women who injure these muscles during birth will experience some changes in their bowel habits.
These changes might include:
- bowel urgency (needing to pass a stool within minutes of getting the urge)
- anal leakage
- loss of control over gas
- loss of control over liquid stools, mucus, or solid stools
These symptoms, particularly flatulence, are most common in the first couple months after vaginal deliveries.
Swedish researchers uncovered that women who have had more than one child may also experience worsened anal incontinence as time goes on. If you still have symptoms at nine months postpartum, it’s likely that these issues will continue without intervention.
Is your gas trapped and painful? It may be a side effect of constipation. It’s normal for your bowel movements to be slow for the first few days after delivery, whether you’ve had a vaginal or cesarean delivery. Constipation can last much longer, though.
- infrequent stools
- hard, lumpy stools
- abdominal discomfort
- straining during bowel movements
- feeling like you haven’t fully emptied your bowels
Your doctor may prescribe iron supplements if you’ve had a cesarean delivery. The iron can also contribute to constipation. If the constipation continues for more than three or four days, contact your doctor. Some pain medications may also increase your chances of becoming constipated.
Diet and lifestyle
If your baby is older, it’s also possible that your lingering postpartum gas has more to do with your diet than anything else. Foods high in fiber can increase the amount of gas. Examine the foods you’ve been eating to see if you’re consuming any of these common offenders:
- dairy products
- whole grains (except rice)
- vegetables like Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage
- fruits like apples, peaches, pears, and prunes
- carbonated drinks like soda, sparkling water, and beer
- hard candy, especially those containing sorbitol
- chewing gum
- processed foods, especially those containing fructose and lactose
Your gas from eating these foods may mean you have other conditions that are worth calling your doctor about. If dairy products make you gassy, for example, you may have a sensitivity to lactose.
Many foods that cause gas are part of a healthy diet, so speak with your doctor before eliminating specific foods.
What’s not normal?
Excess gas can be embarrassing or uncomfortable at times. If you delivered recently, always let your doctor know if you have any severe abdominal pain. In rare cases, you may confuse the pain from a uterine infection with what you think is gas pain.
Signs of infection include:
- bleeding that’s getting heavier
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C)
- severe lower stomach pain
- feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up
Otherwise, call your doctor if your constipation lasts more than three or four days after you deliver your baby. If you have signs of anal incontinence, it’s a good idea to get checked out and have any post-delivery repairs examined. You may also want to visit your doctor to rule out:
- food allergies
- lactose intolerance
- celiac disease
- other dietary issues that contribute to gas
If your concerns aren’t pressing, your gas is a great topic to bring up at your postpartum follow-up appointment.
If you gas doesn’t go away or worsens after the first several months, you may want to ask your doctor about what treatments are available. Your treatment will depend on your symptoms and what is causing your gas.
Your doctor may suggest eating different foods or taking stool softeners to ease constipation. You can take 100 milligrams of Colace twice to three times a day as needed. This medicine is available over the counter.
For anal incontinence, you may want to try some pelvic floor exercises with guidance from your doctor. You may be referred to a physical therapist to get prescribed exercises that will strengthen your muscles and improve your control.
Gas from constipation is unpleasant, but there are many things you can do at home to get things moving:
- Drink plenty of fluids, like water — at least eight to 10 glasses a day.
- Drink warm liquids, like herbal tea or warm lemon water, each morning.
- Get as much rest as possible. Though it’s hard, try to sleep when your baby sleeps.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fiber. Include bran, fruit, green vegetables, and whole grains.
- Consider eating prunes, which have a natural and mild laxative effect.
- Try taking mild laxatives or stool softeners, like Colace, if other lifestyle measures do not help.
For constipation after cesarean delivery:
- Wait to start any iron supplements until you’ve had one or more bowel movements after birth.
- Try to get up and walk around in your home for 10 minutes at a time a few times each day.
- See if taking ibuprofen for pain helps, versus constipating narcotics.
- Use a warm heat pack on your abdomen.
Do you suspect that your gas has something to do with the foods you are eating? Experiment. Try keeping a food log to see which foods are making your gas better or worse. If you start to notice a pattern, try either avoiding those foods or speaking with your doctor about any allergies or intolerances you may have.
Anal incontinence exercises
You can also take measures to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles at home:
- Ask your doctor or nurse to help you learn how to perform a Kegel. It can sometimes be hard to figure out the right muscles.
- Get in a comfortable sitting or standing position.
- Pretend you are holding a bowel movement or trying to stop a stream of urine. These are your pelvic floor muscles. The muscles are not in your thighs or your belly.
- Do the exercises at least 3 times a day. Each time you should contract the muscles 8-12 times, holding each one for 6-8 seconds or longer.
- Try to perform these sets 3-4 times a week.
- You do not see quick results. It may be months before you notice a difference.
You can do these exercises wherever you are, without anyone knowing. Some people do Kegels every time they are stopped at a traffic light, or whenever a commercial comes on TV. If these exercises are difficult at first, try performing fewer repetitions and working your way up.
There are lots of reasons why you might be gassier after giving birth. Many women experience gas postpartum, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed. In most cases, this side effect will pass as your body heals. If it doesn’t, speak with your doctor. They can help identify the cause and suggest methods or medications to help.