Bringing your new baby home means big and exciting changes in your life and daily routine. Who knew such a tiny human would need so many diaper changes! Speaking of poop, while your little one seems to have a bowel moment every hour, you might be feeling a little backed up.
Postpartum constipation is a common part of having a baby that no one talks about. It doesn’t matter how your pregnancy went, or how you gave birth — you’ll likely have a touch of constipation.
There are several reasons why your bowel movements might not be regular right now. Don’t worry, most are temporary and easy to resolve. Let’s look at the many causes of post-delivery constipation and what you can do to get things moving.
Just like the many miraculous changes in your body during pregnancy, your post-baby body is still changing. As you know, things don’t bounce back just because you’ve given birth. You’re still in recovery and healing mode from this wonderful adventure!
The postpartum period is typically considered the first 42 days after birth. Expect things to slowly get better, but don’t rush yourself.
Some causes of postpartum constipation go away on their own. Others will need a little more nudging until your digestive system is cranking again.
You might have postpartum constipation because:
Your body is still healing
Your baby’s adorable little smile every time you gaze into their eyes almost makes you forget the trauma of delivery, but your body still remembers!
As you heal from the birth you might still have stitches at the episiotomy site if you had a vaginal delivery or the surgical site if you had a cesarean delivery.
This can make you unconsciously (or on purpose) avoid pushing even a little when you really need to go, because it hurts! Even peeing might sting a little for a few days after.
Clenching the round sphincter muscles in your bottom can also happen without you realizing. This natural physical reaction can lead to constipation.
The added weight gain and pressure of carrying a growing baby might have given you hemorrhoids during pregnancy. This can cause pain and blockages that can cause constipation or make it worse.
Pushing during your delivery might have also stretched out or damaged your pelvic floor muscles or the anal sphincter muscles. This can make pushing out poop a bit difficult. Don’t worry this is temporary!
Changes in sleep patterns
As you realized from baby’s first day home, their schedule rules yours. This might mean you’ll be up and feeding your little one at 3 a.m. because they’re wide awake and hungry.
Lack of sleep and fatigue are common problems for new parents. You expected this, but probably didn’t realize the havoc it would play on your mind and body.
Changes in sleep patterns and fatigue can also change your bowel habits. A lack of sleep also leads to more stress, which doesn’t help the constipation.
Meeting your new little one is joyful and life changing. But bringing a new baby home can be stressful. Especially if this is your first child, there will be unexpected and difficult changes in every part of your day (and night).
It’s perfectly normal to feel stress and anxiety, while also enjoying being with your baby. These feelings — and your lack of sleep — can spike stress hormones like cortisol. High amounts of stress hormones can cause diarrhea in some people and constipation in others. Either way, they mess with your digestive system!
Dehydration and diet
In the flurry of activity of taking care of baby, your own self-care can get neglected. It’s normal to lose some sleep and have to rush through meals because your little bundle of joy is screaming at the top of their lungs.
However, taking care of your health is important for you and baby. Not drinking plenty of water and other liquids throughout the day can lead to dehydration. This is even more important if you’re breastfeeding.
Changes in your diet while you’re breastfeeding can also affect bowel movements.
For example, if you’ve cut out caffeine things may slow down. And if you don’t have time to eat crunchy salads and other high-fiber foods, you might be low in fiber. This can also cause constipation.
Moving around less
Cuddling and feeding your little one in a plush rocker or armchair is a wonderful bonding experience for you and baby. You also need this time to put your feet up and rest.
However, less standing, walking, and general activity can also slow down your digestive tract. The intestines are muscles and like your other muscles, they need plenty of exercise to keep them strong and help movement.
Lower activity levels while you’re pregnant and after delivery can temporarily cause constipation.
Having a baby might have shown you how amazing your body is, but you’re still not a superhero. Well, you are, but not the comic book kind.
You might need pain medications to help you cope with healing stitches, tearing, muscle sprains, and other aches. Unfortunately, constipation is a common side effect of some pain meds.
Antibiotics usually trigger diarrhea but they can sometimes also cause constipation. This is because they get rid of some of the good bacteria that help digestion, along with the bad bacteria.
Even if you’re no longer taking any meds or pain medications, it can take a few days to weeks for your bowels to balance out.
Just like pregnancy vitamins help keep your nutrition balanced, postpartum vitamins help keep you energized and nourished. Some postpartum supplements include iron and other nutrients that can sometimes cause constipation.
Or you might need iron supplements because you’re slightly anemic after having your baby. You can lose a bit of blood whether you have a vaginal birth or a C-section. This is normal and your body churns out more red blood cells in a few days.
Taking iron supplements for a little while can often help, but since iron leads to constipation you may need to adjust your diet and water intake.
If you’re constipated after delivering your baby, you might need to make just a few tweaks to get things moving.
Home remedies for constipation of all kinds include:
- Hydrate with plenty of water and other liquids.
- Add more fiber to your diet, like whole grains, bran, lentils, beans.
- Eat foods that are natural laxatives, like prunes.
- Move around as much as possible and engage in gentle exercise by doing squats if it is not painful.
- Try over-the-counter laxatives and softeners like psyllium and methylcellulose, bisacodyl, senna, or castor oil.
- Use a stool to elevate your feet in a squatting position while sitting on the toilet to help you push more easily.
- Try calming exercises and relaxation techniques like meditation or a warm bath to help cope with stress.
- Ask friends and family for help with your baby to give yourself some time for self-care and to sleep!
When to see a doctor about postpartum constipation
See your doctor right away if you haven’t had a bowel movement for 4 days after giving birth. You might need a stronger laxative to help rev your digestive tract and relieve constipation. Your doctor might suggest stool softeners like docusate sodium (Colace).
If you don’t already have an OB-GYN, the Healthline FindCare tool can help you find a physician in your area.
Talk to your doctor if you are taking any medication or supplements that might be causing your postpartum constipation. These include pain medications, antibiotics, iron tablets, or a multivitamin. Ask your doctor if it’s OK to stop or change a medication to help get rid of the constipation.
Postpartum constipation is a common issue for new moms. All the changes, stretching, and shifting in your body during pregnancy and delivery can take some time to readjust after you have had your baby.
Most postpartum constipation gets better on its own. You might only need minor changes to your daily diet and exercise plan. Home treatments can help.
In more serious cases, your doctor may need to stop or change certain medications. You might also need stronger, prescription medications to help get rid of the constipation.