Postpartum recovery immediately after giving birth can be difficult, which is why you’ll find all kinds of hacks — everything from padsicles to squirt bottles for “down there.”
But something that’s not necessarily always mentioned are some of the unique challenges that can happen for those who give birth via a cesarean delivery, commonly referred to as a C-section. In particular, you may be wondering about postpartum diarrhea.
Several reasons might cause you to have diarrhea after having a C-section, though the potential for you to experience post-delivery diarrhea is actually about the same as it is for those who have a vaginal delivery.
Although society might think of a C-section as a common procedure, remember that it’s considered major surgery. Often, you’ll receive antibiotics as a preventive measure to reduce the risk of infection. Unfortunately, antibiotics can also cause diarrhea or other bowel issues. This is a common cause linked to C-section–related diarrhea.
This is because antibiotics not only target harmful bacteria, but also the good bacteria that our bodies need to maintain a healthy gut. Without the good bacteria, any antibiotic-resistant harmful bacteria that remain in the digestive tract can grow freely. Often, they create toxins that can irritate your intestines and bowels, leading to a higher risk of diarrhea.
Just remember: While antibiotics can cause diarrhea, this is not a reason to refuse taking them. Antibiotics are recommended because infections after procedures can be life threatening, and preoperative antibiotics are one of the most effective ways to prevent infection.
One contributor to postpartum diarrhea, in general, is the labor experience. Prolonged labor and how long you push can affect the chances of developing not just diarrhea but stress incontinence.
In particular, the
Difficult labor can sometimes lead to an emergency C-section, though it certainly doesn’t always.
It’s no secret that pregnancy itself — for as magical an experience as it is — puts a lot of strain on your body. From shifting organs to increased fluids, and of course added pressure on your bladder and digestive tract from your bundle of joy, it’s not uncommon to experience bowel-related issues as a result. This can lead to a weakened pelvic floor and organ prolapse.
Knowing that your diarrhea is normal doesn’t make it any less frustrating, especially when you’re also trying to care for your newborn baby at the same time.
For most people, diarrhea is a temporary condition that will usually subside in a few days. Regardless of whether or not you’ve decided to breastfeed, you have a few options available to help ease symptoms in the meantime.
Try an OTC treatment
Assuming that you don’t have a more serious underlying condition, you can opt for an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-diarrhea medication like loperamide hydrochloride. Also known by brand names Imodium or Kaopectate, this medication can help your stool absorb more water so that it’s firmer. And it can also decrease the frequency of your bowel movements.
While research around taking this medication while nursing isn’t robust, a 2004 study covering a small group of lactating women suggests that it’s safe to use while nursing as long as dosage guidelines are followed. The medication isn’t significantly absorbed into your milk.
Add a probiotic
Considering that antibiotic-induced diarrhea can destroy both good and bad bacteria from your gut, replenishing the healthy bacteria is essential for restoring balance. Opt for foods rich in probiotics, or bacteria, as opposed to incorporating a supplement. This can include options like yogurt or fermented milk like kefir.
Check to confirm that the food contains live or active cultures, as not all yogurts have them. And for best results, opt for low sugar foods, as foods with high sugar contents can aggravate diarrhea symptoms.
Especially if you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding, you should be drinking more anyway. But hydrating with liquids like water, broth, and even sports drinks can help you avoid dehydration, a common symptom with persistent diarrhea. Just be sure to consume broth and sports drinks in moderation, since too much salt or too much sugar can actually worsen your symptoms.
And rather than guzzling large quantities at once, opt for smaller amounts throughout the day.
Temporarily adjust your diet
Even if your diarrhea is linked to antibiotics given to you before your C-section, that doesn’t mean that your diet isn’t aggravating it. Consider switching to a somewhat bland diet temporarily to see if that aids your recovery process.
Specifically, focus on the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These foods are considered tummy-friendly and easily tolerated. They tend to be low in protein and fat, which makes them easier for your body to digest.
Even though diarrhea is a frustrating experience, it’s not the only bowel issue you might experience during your postpartum period. In many cases, you may have several days between when you give birth to when you have your first postpartum poop.
A few common postpartum bowel issues include:
- Constipation. Just as stress hormones released during labor and delivery can cause diarrhea, they can also be responsible for constipation.
- Hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are common throughout pregnancy, even before delivery. During birth, they’re usually most common in those who deliver vaginally, as they can also be caused by extensive pushing.
- Fecal incontinence. Most people think of urinary incontinence as a common postpartum side effect, but fecal incontinence can also occur because of strenuous pushing during delivery and a weakened pelvic floor.
For most people, postpartum diarrhea — regardless of whether it occurs after a C-section or a vaginal birth — should resolve itself within a few days after giving birth. However, if your diarrhea persists beyond that time frame, speak with a doctor. Additionally, if you have any of the following symptoms, a trip to the doctor is in order:
- rapid heart rate
- dark urine
- nausea or vomiting
- blood or mucus in stool
While not enjoyable, postpartum diarrhea after a C-section is normal. It may sometimes be linked to either antibiotics given before the procedure or prolonged labor before an unscheduled C-section. For most people, the condition should subside in a few days, but there are plenty of at-home remedies that can help speed recovery.
If diarrhea persists or additional symptoms appear, don’t hesitate to talk with a doctor.