Ah, pregnancy, a time of joy and growth. Especially during the second half of pregnancy, your body goes through enormous physical changes that affect the digestive system. As your baby and uterus grow, the digestive organs shift to make way for the baby, which results in a variety of issues like nausea, heartburn, bloating, and gas. Many women are unprepared for the host of gastrointestinal issues that occur after birth as your body heals itself and organs return to its normal position and size.
Here are some of the most common gastrointestinal issues that women struggle with during the postpartum period and tips on how to prevent and treat them:
Constipation - difficulty having bowel movements due to pain and slow bowel movement. This is the most common postpartum complication, affecting about 25% of postpartum women (1).
Slowing down of the gastrointestinal system during labor from the drastic hormonal changes during pregnancy and birth. It can take up to several months for the digestive tract to adjust to its new position and heal from the inflammation from birth.
Birth injuries can physically change the digestive anatomy – many women experience damage to the anal sphincter and pelvic floor muscles.
Use of antibiotics or postpartum medications can wreak havoc on gut flora by depleting good bacteria and stimulating the growth of harmful bacteria.
Fear of pain from birth injuries or hemorrhoids – many women fear that the act of pushing will result in pain, discomfort, and tearing of stitches and therefore have difficulty relaxing the sphincter muscles.
Use of iron supplements – some types of iron in supplements can be constipating.
Drink plenty of fluids – keeping hydration up and drinking warm liquids in the morning can help keep stools soft and moving.
Dietary fiber – Fiber improves colon function, so increase your natural fiber intake by consuming nuts, almonds, flaxseeds, jicama, fruits, green vegetables, and dried fruit like prunes.
Get moving – Incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine can help improve your circulation and get your bowel moving.
Drink bone broth or take a collagen supplement – Collagen helps release gastric juices and aids in the restoration of the mucosal lining in the gut. The amino acids proline and glycine that make up collagen help to heal damaged cell walls. Mother Nutrient offers a high-quality Multi Collagen Complex to help!
Support your digestion with digestive enzymes. Enzymes help break down your proteins, fats, and carbohydrates so that you can more easily digest and absorb them. If you feel digestive discomfort after giving birth, your stomach might be sluggish and may need extra help. Check out our best-selling complete digestive enzymes.
Take a probiotic – Restoring a healthy gut flora can assist in proper absorption and overall better digestive function. We offer a high-strength Women's probiotic that is 40 billion CFUs and 4 different strains to help you repopulate your post-baby gut. Most probiotics out there have less than 20 billion CFUs, but we know this is the time to give your gut a boost, so we developed this special formulation, free of allergens that survives the acid in your stomach and delivers the probiotics safely to your gut
Incontinence - Difficulty controlling your bowel movements.
During pregnancy and delivery, the muscles and ligaments around your digestive tract are stretched out. These tissues take time to not only regain their elasticity but also their efficiency, which can result in urinary and fecal incontinence. C-sections and medical interventions during delivery, such as the use of vacuum forceps and episiotomies, can also cause damage and prolong the healing process. As a result, it may be difficult to control the muscles and can lead to sudden and unexpected bowel movements.
Avoid hard-to-digest foods and gas-producing foods like starchy vegetables, grains, dairy, beans, and peas.
Go to pelvic floor muscle therapy to strengthen and rebuild tightness around the pelvic floor.
Take collagen to support the healing of the gut lining and the tissues and ligaments affected. You can get collagen from drinking or cooking with bone broth.
Take probiotics to improve your gut flora.
Excessive air trapped in your gastrointestinal system leads to frequent gas and bloating due to the reduced ability to control the anal sphincter. C-sections and birth injuries can damage the tissues around the anal sphincter, making it more difficult to control.
A gastrointestinal disorder that leads to intestinal permeability, which allows food particles and pathogens to enter the bloodstream. Partially digested protein and bacteria entering the bloodstream leads to an immune response, which can lead to a variety of autoimmune conditions, as well as nutrient malabsorption, inflammation, and food sensitivities (2, 3).
Antibiotics and other medication
Poor diet – a diet high in sugar and processed carbohydrates are particularly problematic and can have a negative effect on gut flora.
Chronic diseases and conditions like obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, endocrine disease, and neurological conditions can reduce healthy gut flora.
Low stomach acid, which does not send the proper signals to the gut that food is on the way. The low acidity in the stomach leads to poor digestion and an increase in harmful bacteria which eventually ends up circulating the bloodstream.
Follow the 4 R’s protocol to break the cycle of inflammation:
Remove triggers that are causing the inflammation
Replace gut-damaging foods with healing foods containing zinc, B vitamins, vitamin C, and essential fatty acids.
Repair the gut with specific nutrients like digestive enzymes, essential amino acids, and herbs like licorice root and marshmallow root.
Re-inoculate with probiotics to restore beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Supplement or add foods that are high in nourishing fats, protein, collagen, and dietary fiber to your diet.
Stress is often an overlooked issue for digestive issues, but the digestive system is controlled by the enteric nervous system, which means that prolonged stress can activate a hormonal response that slows down the digestive process. Long periods of stress can also permanently damage the gut flora by reducing circulation to the intestines and creating toxic metabolites (4). Over time, the immune system suffers and reduces the body’s ability to fight off pathogens (5).
The postpartum period can be a stressful time for a new mom as she heals from pregnancy and birth and adjusts to life taking care of a newborn. While a certain amount is normal in the postpartum period, taking steps to reduce excessive stress is important both for your mental and digestive health!
Having a good support system, eating well-balanced and nutritious meals, taking supplements to aid digestive healing, and taking other steps to prioritize self-care are all important ways to minimize postpartum stress.
We can help
Our gastrointestinal system is greatly affected by what we ingest, so while we can’t miraculously squeeze our organs back into pre-pregnancy shape, we can take extra care in what we put in our bodies. If you are struggling with gut issues after birth, know that you are not alone and that over time and with help, they will typically dissipate. Mother Nutrient is here to support you through that process!
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Tell us, were you aware of these possible postpartum digestive issues? What helped your gut feel better? Share with us in the comment section, and share this post by clicking next to the title!
Content found on this website is not considered medical advice. Please consult with a physician before making any medical or lifestyle changes.
1. Bradley CS, Kennedy CM, Turcea AM, Rao SS, Nygaard IE. Constipation in pregnancy: prevalence, symptoms, and risk factors. Obstetrics and Gynecology 2007;110(6):1351‐7.
2. Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. Therapeutic Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College, 2016.
3. Vaarala O, Atkinson M, Neu J. The "Perfect Storm" for Type 1 Diabetes: The Complex Interplay Between Intestinal Microbiota, Gut Permeability, and Mucosal Immunity. Diabetes. 2008;57:2555-2562.
4. Lipski E. Digestive wellness. Lincolnwood: Keats Publishing; 2000.
5. 3. Leaky Gut Diet and Treatment Plan, Including Top Gut Foods - Dr. Axe [Internet]. Dr. Axe. 2018. Available from: https://draxe.com/4-steps-to-heal-leaky-gut-and-autoimmune-disease