FAQs About Postpartum Constipation
This is a topic that some people see as being taboo and so are reluctant to discuss. However, with notable health impacts associated with this condition, it is important to find answers to your questions. Therefore, we have gathered some of the most commonly asked questions about postpartum constipation and produced research-based solutions to them.
Q1: Why does Postpartum Constipation occur?
- Changes to your routine: Your body has a natural rhythm related to bowel movements; however, this is likely to be disrupted as you get used to caring for your new baby.
- Pressure on your intestines: During pregnancy, your growing baby puts a lot of pressure on your internal organs, including your intestines. This may lead to some deformation that could cause constipation after giving birth.
- Lack of water: Insufficient water in your body can cause your stools to harden, making them harder to pass through your system.
- Insufficient fiber in your diet: Fiber helps soften your stools and allows them to pass more efficiently; therefore, if you’re not eating enough fiber, you may inadvertently cause constipation.
- Lack of exercise: Keeping your body moving and physically strong will help your internal systems to operate more effectively. Also, there are specific exercises that you can do (such as pelvic floor exercises) that can help reduce the likelihood of constipation.
- Extended hospitalization: If you have to lay in a hospital bed for a long time after giving birth, your intestines may become ‘lazy’, which can lead to constipation. Moreover, gravity usually helps your body to move stools through your system when you are upright.
- Certain medications: Some types of medicine, such as antidepressants, can have constipation as a side effect.
There is no way to pinpoint a particular cause as each woman’s case will be different. Nonetheless, a combination of the above factors is likely to lead to postpartum constipation. Evidence is inconclusive regarding whether any obstetric factors may cause postpartum constipation, although postpartum incontinence may be associated with forceps delivery, maternal obesity, and anal injury during childbirth3.
Q2: How Common is Postpartum Constipation?
Approximately one in four women will experience constipation either during pregnancy or within the first three months postpartum4. Furthermore, when explicitly considering only the postpartum period, this figure rises to just over 25%5. Therefore, if you are one of the many women suffering from postpartum constipation, please do not feel like you are alone as at least a quarter of all new mothers will be going through the same thing as you.
Q3: How Long does Postpartum Constipation Last?
This condition is most common during the first few days following childbirth. However, it can often last for three to six months. In some extreme cases, women have been reported to have suffered from postpartum constipation for as long as twelve months6. As the potential timeframe is so variable, it is recommended that you consult a medical professional should your symptoms last longer than a week or so.
Q4: Should I be Worried about Postpartum Constipation?
If you have not had a bowel movement for four days following childbirth, you should consult your doctor straightaway7. That way, you can make sure that you get the advice and treatment appropriate for you.
However, in general, this is not a condition for which to be overly concerned. Symptoms are usually short-lived and can be treated simply (see next section). In more severe cases, your doctor may need to change any medication you are currently taking or prescribe you something specifically to help7.
Q5: How can Postpartum Constipation be relieved?
Considering the risk factors discussed above, there are some straightforward strategies that you can use to reduce the likelihood of postpartum constipation or to relieve symptoms if you are already suffering from it. Firstly, making sure that you take in enough fiber and fluids is critical8. This will help your body to maintain normal bowel function.
Remaining active, mainly through walking9, can also help as it will restore your abdominal muscles to their pre-pregnancy positions. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe you a laxative medication to help your body regain its natural rhythm8. Some research also considers the use of Chinese herbal medicines for the treatment of postpartum constipation10.
Q6: Is There a Link between having a C-section and Suffering from Postpartum Constipation?
An in-depth research project considering past literature failed to find a link either way between giving birth via Caesarean section and the likelihood of postpartum constipation3. However, other studies have suggested that while having a C-section doesn’t impact the chance of experiencing the condition, it does generate other possible causes11. For example, the anesthetic used during the procedure may cause your intestines to be slower to react, meaning that your first bowel movement following childbirth may take longer before it occurs.
Furthermore, blood loss during a C-section could reduce your iron quantity, which may also make constipation more likely. If this is the case for you, eating iron-rich foods is your best bet, as iron supplements have been shown to be a potential cause of constipation12, which would only make your problem worse.
Postpartum constipation is reasonably common, affecting over one in four women. Symptoms typically last for a few days, but the condition can go on much longer in some cases. If you have not had a bowel movement for four days following childbirth, or if your symptoms are persisting, you should seek professional medical advice.
Causes of postpartum constipation are manifold but tend to be linked to lack of fiber, insufficient water, remaining to lie down due to hospitalization, particular medications, and little exercise.
With this in mind, simple treatment involves drinking lots of fluids, maintaining a high-fiber diet, and continuing regular - though not intense - exercise (for example, walking and pelvic floor exercises). In addition, if you have given birth via C-section, your first bowel movement may take longer due to the lasting effect of the anesthetic used, and you may need to eat food rich in iron (such as red meat).
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