During pregnancy, most women spend a lot of time focusing on getting through each phase and preparing for their baby’s arrival.
What happens to their bodies after the baby is born is usually low on the list of things to think about.
After birth, your body is returning to normal function (with a few extras thrown in if you are breastfeeding) and it can take some time for things to settle down.
4 digestive problems that happen after pregnancy
Many women are surprised to find their digestive systems are very fragile and wonder how to cope with that while dealing with the demands of a newborn.
Here are 4 ways your digestive system can be affected after birth, and how to cope:
Most women experience some constipation following birth. This occurs for a number of reasons:
- Slowing of digestive system during labour
- Anaesthetic used during labour
- Temporary lack of muscle tone in abdominal area
- Medications used for postpartum pain relief
- Vitamin use (particularly iron supplements)
- Fear of pushing because of haemorrhoids, stitches, or tenderness.
Passing the first bowel movement after birth can seem daunting. After all, you are probably feeling tender and sore. You might have stitches or a tear, or be worried about pressure on your c-section stitches.
The key to preventing constipation is to keep the digestive system from slowing down and becoming too sluggish. To avoid this becoming a problem, keep up good daily habits:
- Drink at least 2-3 litres of water every day, to ensure healthy stool consistency
- Take magnesium (a great electrolyte powder is a good option)
- Eat a healthy well-balanced diet, including natural fibre from fruits and veggies
- Get regular exercise, to stimulate your lymphatic system and blood flow
- If the area is tender, supporting the perineal area with a warm cloth might help
- If pain medication is necessary, speak to your care provider about using a stool softener
- Avoid straining during a bowel movement, as this can lead to haemorrhoids.
You might like to read The First Postpartum Poop – 10 Things You Need To Know for more information about causes and prevention.
Having gas during pregnancy is one of those things – there is little you can do but live with it.
Excessive wind after birth can be a surprise, especially if you have little control over it. Being gassy after birth isn’t uncommon, as the muscles and nerves around your bowels have been stretched.
If you had a c-section, air can become trapped in your body during surgery and will take time to work its way out.
It can also take some time to regain control over this area. Do pelvic floor exercises daily, to strengthen the muscles.
Warm drinks, such as herbal teas, can alleviate the cramps that come with trapped gas – but make sure they are ok to take while breastfeeding.
#3: Fecal Incontinence
The muscles and nerves that control your bowel movements can be stretched during birth. The use of forceps or vacuum, or a significant tear or episiotomy that extends backwards, can cause damage to the muscles and nerves as well.
This can affect how much control you have over your bowels after the birth of your baby. Sometimes women feel sudden pressure and the sensation of needing to pass a bowel movement.
Some even pass a movement without having any sensation of needing to beforehand (this is called fecal incontinence).
These issues can cause embarrassment but it’s important to talk to your care provider so you can be reassured everything will heal and return to normal.
It might help to see a women’s health physiotherapist if the problem doesn’t correct itself within a few months.
#4: Stress-related problems
The first days, weeks, and even months after having a baby can be challenging – even stressful. It is also exhausting when you have to manage with less sleep than you are used to.
You might have had a difficult birth and need more time to recover, both physically and emotionally. If you have other children, or not enough support, or you’re parenting alone or facing other personal challenges, the post-birth period can add more stress into your life.
The digestive system is controlled by the enteric nervous system, which is embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal system. Stress can activate the ‘fight or flight’ response in your central nervous system, and this reduces blood flow to your digestive system.
Stress can cause your digestive muscles, such as the oesophagus, to go into spasms. Acid levels in your stomach can rise, causing indigestion and acid reflux. Stress can cause you to feel nauseous, and give you diarrhoea, or even constipation.
As far as possible, try to minimise the effects of stress. Some things you can do to combat stress are:
- Prepare to have a post-natal month once your baby is born
- Try relaxation therapies, such as yoga, meditation, massage, or acupuncture
- Talk to a trusted friend or a professional therapist
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, and avoid processed junk foods as much as possible
- Don’t try to medicate symptoms of stress by using alcohol, smoking, or drugs.
When you are dealing with the demands of a newborn, and with life in general, some stress is to be expected. Always talk to your partner, family, friends or a trusted care provider if stress is getting the better of you. Ask for help.
Digestive problems after birth are more common than you might think – and not always talked about. Identifying potential problems, and dealing with them as soon as you can, will help you avoid future problems, and ensure you are able to enjoy your new baby as much as possible.