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Postpartum Constipation!

Author: Julina Halim

Whether this is your first baby or not, having a newborn in the family changes your daily routine. On top of that your body has just been through pregnancy, labor and delivery. You need time to adjust to your new body as well as your new life.

One of the many things you may experience during this transition is a change in your bowel movement. You may experience bloat, indigestion, constipation, reflux, change of appetite, and food sensitivity.

Causes of Prenatal and Postpartum Constipation

Hormones

Throughout your pregnancy, your hormones were constantly changing. If you are breastfeeding, the hormonal shifts are still at play until you wean the baby. We do know that estrogen and progesterone can influence digestion. Many women experience constipation or diarrhea even with their monthly cycles, let alone the scale of changes throughout and after pregnancy. 

Body shape changes and tissue trauma throughout pregnancy and labor

As the baby grows, the baby’s weight pulls on you, and the uterus pushes against your digestive organs and connective tissues. Force exerted during labor, and tissue trauma from cesarean sections continue to stress the body. The tissues and organs will need time to heal during the postpartum period, and digestion is often compromised. 

Gut microbiome changes

More and more research is exploring the difference of microbiome between pregnant and non-pregnant women and its association to the health of both mother and baby. We know that changes in the microbiome can also impact digestion. 

Stress

Ask any mother with a newborn, and she will tell you how tired she is. The changes in schedule, daily demands, eating (and feeding) hours, sleep deprivation while recovering from childbirth are all perceived as stress by the physical body, interrupting the balance between your sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. One significant consequence is compromised digestion. 

If you have any other underlying health conditions and are on medication, that may complicate the matter further.

What you can do to help with your digestion:

To help, you want food that is nutrient-rich yet easy to break down while promoting gut motility. 

Warm Cooked Food

Start with fully cooked food, served slightly warm, or close to body temperature. Our digestion enzymes work best at body temperatures; foods and beverages that are too cold or too hot slow down food transit time in the gut, making them harder to digest and may cause constipation. 

Add Fiber Intake Gradually

Include wholegrain, beans and lentils, fruits and vegetables in your meal plan but take it slow. Fiber is vital in supporting healthy gut and food transit time, but your digestive system may not be ready for a large amount. Having high-fiber foods fully cooked helps make them easier to digest. If high-fiber foods bother you, talk to your doctor and explore starting with foods in the low FODMAP list; it is a food list medically designed to help those suffering IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Foods on the list may be easier for your system as you start increasing fiber intake. 

Stay Hydrated

Drink lots of fluid, especially if you increase your fiber intake: water, non-caffeinated tea, and freshly-made fruit juices. Soups made from bone or vegetable broth are also wonderful options. 

Get Plenty of Rest

This may be easier said than done, but it is what your body needs. Get support from family and friends and try to have some me-time. When you feel ready, light walks and gentle exercises will also help with bowel movement. 

Sometimes there may be more complications such as rectal prolapse, hemorrhoids, incontinence, or others. Always talk to your doctors and get medical advice when you have concerns.

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