Fear of pain during childbirth usually tops every expectant mother’s labour fears list.
But there’s another common fear lurking in the birth room — losing your sh*t on the birthing table.
Mothers-to-be are often given the advice to “push like you are pooping,” to help get your baby out sooner.
But doing so may cause you to poop a little (it’s not likely the huge poo-splosion you’re imagining – breathe deep mama-to-be) while giving birth.
It’s one of the most common yet least discussed concerns of pregnant women around the world.
Will you poop on your midwife or doctor during labour?
And if you do, how will you survive this sheer, utter embarrassment?
Pooping During Labour
For those who are shaking in their boots with anxiety, we’ll answer the question: is pooping during labour really something worth worrying about?
Firstly, here is an explanation as to why it can happen:
Why Do Some Women Poop During Labour?
The simple answer to this question is, you’re using the same muscles to push out your baby as the ones you use when having a bowel movement.
During labour, your baby has to descend through your pelvis to be born.
This causes pressure on your internal organs, particularly your colon and rectum.
As your baby moves through the birth canal, your colon is squeezed like a tube of toothpaste.
If your colon hasn’t emptied before labour began, the pressure of your baby moving down may also push out any poop left in the lower part of the colon.
Many women naturally have a bowel movement in the early stages of labour, thanks to prostaglandins being released. This hormone is naturally involved in a normal bowel function, and it prepares your body for labour.
During the very early stages of labour, women might feel the need to empty their bowels and experience diarrhea (or ‘have the runs’). This emptying reduces the amount of poop remaining in the colon, and means later in labour there is less chance it will be pushed out.
Women with epidurals in place may be more likely to poop during labour due to not being able to feel the sensation of needing to empty their bowel. The muscles in the pelvic floor may be more relaxed and either release any stool in the rectum naturally or as the baby is coming through the birth canal.
Can I Prevent Pooping During Labour?
Unfortunately, no one can predict if you are going to poop during labour.
Many years ago women were given enemas to clear the colon early, in the belief it would prevent soiling during labour or even allow the baby more room to descend.
A 2013 Cochrane review found enemas didn’t show benefit to labouring women, could potentially increase the risk of infection due to leaking of watery faeces, and was an unpleasant and painful procedure.
Castor Oil To ‘Clear Out’
Some women will recommend castor oil as a means to emptying the bowel before labour (or even to kickstart labour). Castor oil is a liquid laxative and causes forceful emptying of the bowel, including diarrhea, cramping and vomiting. And who wants that to deal with during labour?
There is a belief castor oil can causes babies to pass meconium (their first bowel movement) in the uterus, increasing their risk of complications. There is little evidence to prove this theory, but castor oil definitely isn’t for the fainthearted.
Some women ‘hold on’ out of fear of pooping during the later stage of labour, when the urge to bear down might begin. This can be counterproductive, as fear and stress will elevate your stress hormone response, interfering with the progress of your labour. Contractions can slow or stall, leaving you open to possible interventions.
If you feel the sensation of needing to empty your bowel, it may turn out to be just the sensation of the baby descending but it can be a good time to be assisted to the toilet if you feel you do want to go.
Pushing On The Toilet Might Be A Good Option
If you haven’t had an epidural, sitting on the toilet can mentally help you to ‘let go’ if there is any stool remaining in your colon, especially if you are holding back on pushing out of fear of pooping. You may also feel you have more privacy in this position which can help you to release your muscles. Some women prefer to labour on the toilet for this reason.
During pregnancy, you should be watching your water and fibre (from fruit and vegetables, not cereals which can bind you) intake, to avoid constipation, as your digestive system tends to slow down thanks to pregnancy hormones. See BellyBelly’s article about constipation during pregnancy for more great tips on how to avoid it.
Having plenty of water and foods high in fibre may mean you are less likely to have stool in your colon when you are in labour.
Exercise is also a good way to encourage your bowels to keep moving regularly, even if it is a gentle daily walk.
During labour, make sure you take bathroom breaks. Having a full bladder (or bowel) can interfere with pushing and even cause you pain.
What Will Everyone Think If I Poop?
It’s important to remember you are not the first person to have this fear – and you wont be the last! Most women will admit to feeling embarrassed or downright terrified of the idea they might push out a poo during labour.
Your midwife or doctor isn’t going to stop mid-push and announce to the room that you’ve pooped.
Most women won’t even know it’s happened, because they are too focused on pushing out their baby – this takes a lot of mental and physical energy and focus! Your midwife will calmly and discreetly wipe any stool and dispose of the cloth without a thought.
Who Will Be In The Birth Room?
If you’re concerned about other people seeing you poop during labour, it’s time to make some decisions. First of all, don’t invite anyone into your birth space who will be horrified to see a labouring woman poop – or who is likely to mention it to you later.
Have an honest discussion with your partner about the chances of it happening and how they will deal with it (partner tip: making a fuss about it at the time is not going to end well for you later).
Most dads are pretty impressed by their partner’s enthusiasm and endurance about this time of labour, so you could push almost anything out of your body and they wouldn’t be phased. But it is worth at least making sure they know it’s a possibility and decide if you want them to lie through their teeth if you do poop.
And if you do notice you’ve pooped, remind yourself it’s the least important thing going on right now. Pushing a baby out of your body is a pretty incredible feat and in the scheme of things, a little poop shouldn’t dampen that moment. And realistically, at the end of your exhausting labour, you likely wont care at the time.
Most women will tell you once your baby is in your arms, everything about labour fades into the background – the hard work, intensity, pain and whether you pooped or not.
Save yourself the stress and anxiety by preparing to have the most positive birth experience and embracing the natural side effects of labour as part of the package.