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Your baby is here! Yay! You did it! Congratulations, and welcome to the club.
… Now it’s time to poop.
I know — buckle your seatbelt.
Here’s the deal: We have to poop. It’s going to happen. And, though the thought of having to push anything else out of your body after labor might be nerve-wracking (scary, even), there’s a way to make it less stressful.
First, take a breath. You can do this. The first poop is scary, yes, but I’ll tell you my top five tips to make this a bit easier.
Birthing a baby is hard work — and so is making milk to feed them. With your body working overtime to produce milk in those first postpartum days, it’s easy to become dehydrated.
Being dehydrated contributes to constipation and hard stools, which can cause pain and discomfort when trying to get that first poop out. Your gut needs water to bulk stool up and make it soft enough for it to all come out at once.
So, even if you think you’re drinking enough water, drink more. Those big water cups you get at the hospital will come in handy! Fill it up, and drink, drink, drink.
Stool softeners are exactly what they sound like: They soften your poop. You’ll usually get one, such as Colace, to take once you’re admitted to the postpartum unit.
The stool softeners can reduce your risk of straining or pushing too hard while trying to poop, which is important after delivery. (Too much pressure can aggravate any stitches, surgical areas, or sensitive tissues)
That said, stool softeners are best used for short-term constipation. If you’re still constipated a week or more after labor, talk with your doctor or care team about it.
Your doctor may recommend laxatives, mineral oil, or glycerin suppositories (and in some cases, an enema). But it’s important you talk with them before trying anything more intense, as they’ll be able to help you determine which method is right for you.
A squatting position is one of the best positions for pelvic floor muscle relaxation and lengthening, which you’ll need.
Use a footstool to place your feet up on when it’s time. This should be high enough so that your knees are above your hips, and you’re able to lean forward and rest your forearms on your thighs.
When we sit upright on the toilet, with our knees and hips at a 90-degree angle, one of the pelvic floor muscles, puborectalis, gets short and tightens around the rectum.
Think of it like a kink in a garden hose: The water stops when a part of the hose is pinched. The same thing happens in your rectum when we sit rather than squat.
By raising your knees up and leaning forward, you assume more of a squatting position. The puborectalis is able to lengthen and allow the rectum to open more fully.
The end result? An easier, smoother bowel movement. Yay!
This might be the most important tip. When your poop is making its, um, debut, try and exhale through an open mouth.
Imagine you’re fogging up a mirror or blowing out a candle. Doing this allows an exchange of air pressure, so not all the force is placed on that sensitive perineum or abdominal scar.
You may have to breathe a few times, depending on how big or long that poop is. Don’t be afraid to repeat this pattern.
Lastly, you may need some support down there.
If you had a vaginal delivery and the perineum (the space between bottom of the vagina and anus) is a bit sore, you can give it some external support. Make the number “4” with your hand by extending your four fingers and tucking your thumb to your palm. Then, bring your fingers together, so they are straight and touching.
Place the pads of your fingers gently against that sensitive area (you can also hold a soft washcloth there), and very gently, put a small amount of upward pressure on your perineum as that poop is emerging. This helps to minimize movement and strain on that area and allows for the poop to do its thing.
If you had a cesarean delivery (C-section), hugging a pillow while you’re leaning forward and breathing can also give the abdominal scar a bit of support. Bonus: Try this when you have to cough or sneeze after C-section. It can help a lot!
There you go: The top 5 tricks to help that first poop go… well, if not completely smoothly, a bit smoother than it otherwise might.
And a bonus tip: Once you’re finished, I recommend using a peri bottle (FridaMom has a great one) instead of wiping. It will feel much better than scratchy toilet paper, especially if you’re experiencing hemorrhoids (which I had with both my deliveries).
If you don’t have a peri bottle, try dabbing the area with a soft cloth or a wipe instead of wiping. Then, squirt a little witch hazel on your bum, get your ice pack or pad ready, pull up those hospital mesh undies, and get back into bed, so you can rest, heal, and snuggle that baby. (And drink more water!)
Marcy Crouch is a board certified women’s health physical therapist and has a passion to change the way women are cared for during and after their pregnancies. She’s the proud mama bear to two boys and drives a minivan shamelessly. She loves the ocean, horses, and a good glass of wine. Follow her on Instagram to learn more than you want to know about vaginas — and to find links to podcasts, blog posts, and other publications related to pelvic floor health.