If you are one of the many women who experience constipation after giving birth, rest assured; you are not alone. In fact, this is a common problem that can occur for several reasons, but if this change in bowel movements has you concerned, knowing the common symptoms, causes, and treatment options for postpartum constipation can bring some peace of mind.
While constipation may seem simple enough as a symptom this can further be broken down into additional symptoms based on severity and discomfort level.
1. Infrequent Bowel Movements
Infrequent bowel movements are one of the main symptoms, and most obvious, of postpartum constipation. This means bowel movements never occur or occur only every other day or so. For some women, this can even be as infrequent as once a week.
2. Difficulty Passing Stool
Another symptom of postpartum constipation is difficulty passing stool. This can mean that there may be an urge to strain in order to have a bowel movement or that stool is hard and dry, making it difficult to pass or causing pain during bowel movements.
3. Pain in the Abdomen or Rectum
Pain in the abdomen or rectum is another symptom of postpartum constipation. This pain can be sharp or dull and may come and go. This pain is often worse after a bowel movement.
4. Bloating or Gas
Bloating or gas is another common symptom of postpartum constipation. This can be caused by the build-up of stool in the intestines. In addition, when stool is hard to pass, additional air may be swallowed during the process, which can lead to bloating and uncomfortable gas.
Causes of Postpartum Constipation
While some may think fiber intake all that matters when it comes to constipation, as the body begins postpartum recovery, there’s more to it than dietary choices.
1. Hormonal Changes
One of the main causes of postpartum constipation is hormonal changes. After giving birth, the body’s hormones are in flux. This can cause a slowdown in the digestive system, leading to constipation. In addition, pregnancy and breastfeeding can also cause hormonal changes that can lead to symptoms of constipation.
Another hormonal cause of constipation is the use of birth control pills which some women turn after childbirth, in some cases only two to four weeks afterward. These can contain high levels of progesterone, which can slow down the digestive system.
2. Poor Diet
While fiber intake and dietary choices aren’t the only cause, they are a cause. A poor diet is a common cause of postpartum constipation. This is because a diet low in fiber, or high in processed foods, can make it difficult to have regular bowel movements and lead to various levels of constipation. In addition, dehydration and not drinking enough fluids, can also lead to constipation and can make stool hard and dry, making it difficult to pass.
3. Lack of Exercise
Believe it or not, a lack of exercise is another common cause of postpartum constipation. This is due to the slowing of the digestive system that can occur during inactivity. This doesn’t necessarily mean laziness is the culprit, as pregnancy and the postpartum period can create complications and side effects that can make it difficult to get enough exercise.
While they may be helping with recovery or other health concerns, certain medications can also cause constipation. These include pain medications, such as opioids and some antidepressants. For those taking any medications that could be causing constipation, it is best to consult with a doctor about alternative options.
Treatment Options for Postpartum Constipation
While causes such as hormonal fluctuations, lifestyle and medications may seem overwhelming to reevaluate in the midst of caring for a newborn, there are some simple solutions that can be done to ease symptoms and promote healthy bowel movements.
One of the best ways to treat constipation is with diet changes, specifically by adding more fiber to daily dietary intake. Fiber helps add bulk to the stool, making it easier to pass. In addition, cutting down on processed foods and ensuring proper hydration levels by drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, is important.
Exercise is another important treatment for constipation. This doesn’t necessarily mean jumping back into hour sessions at the gym but rather including regular exercise that can help stimulate the digestive system and keep things moving along. Activity as simple enough as a brisk walk, swimming, yoga or other forms of moderate exercise such as pelvic floor exercises can be helpful.
3. Regular Bathroom Usage
In addition to diet and exercise, another helpful tip is to ensure regular bathroom trips are made whenever the urge arises and avoiding holding bowel movements, or gas. This can help to avoid stool build-up, bloating and constipation.
4. Avoid Straining
In addition to regular bowel movements, it is also important to avoid straining, which can make constipation worse. In cases where there is difficulty passing stool, some things that can be done to make the process easier include using a stool softener, taking a laxative, or taking a warm bath.
If you are experiencing constipation after giving birth, while it may seem simple enough to go for a walk and add chickpeas into your evening salad, it is important to mention the side effect with a doctor, as some prescribed or recommended treatments can help regulate bowel movements and address any issues that may be specific to your situation. Add these tips can help you to avoid constipation and stay comfortable after giving birth, and having your doctor on board can help alleviate the issue sooner than not.