One of the most common pieces of advice given to new moms who have not yet had the pleasure of squeezing a baby out of their nether regions is to “push like you are pooping.” That is to say, pushing as if you are having a bowel movement is going to help you get your baby out quickly, and it may also have its intended effect — by causing you to poop a little while giving birth.
Most new moms who are already nervous about a whole team of doctors and nurses seeing their vag don’t like this one bit. They want to do everything they can to avoid this embarrassing side effect, which might explain why “how to prevent pooping during labor” has become a popular Google search phrase. Easing these fears surrounding childbirth is important, considering that a 2012 Norwegian study found birth to be over an hour longer for women who were afraid of delivery.
You asked, and we answered — or rather, we asked skilled medical professionals who know the answers to break down the burning question on every newly pregnant woman’s mind: Is it possible to give birth without pooping yourself?
What the experts say
Whisper this question to your doctor, nurse or midwife, and 10 bucks says that he or she won’t blink an eye: The fear of pooping during labor really is that common. “I always first remind women that it is a normal physiologic process, and we do not pay much attention to it as care providers. If noticed, it simply reassures me that a patient is pushing effectively,” explains Laurie MacLeod, a certified nurse midwife at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
MacLeod adds that a bowel movement that occurs naturally during labor may not be as bad as it sounds: “We simply wipe the stool away and minimize anyone else noticing it as much as possible. Prior to the pushing stage, women are able to get up and use the restroom privately. Enemas are no longer routinely used in labor as they do not improve outcomes and are uncomfortable for women. Often during labor, women are not eating normally as most women consume clear liquids in labor, so they are less likely to pass stool. It is also common in normal labor to have loose stools, so a woman’s body often will take care of passing stool naturally prior to the pushing stage.”
What the moms say
The trustworthy expert opinions are all fine and good, but we all know that pregnant women can get a little cuckoo when surfing the Internet in the wee hours after a night of tossing and turning. Expectant moms are still looking for poop-prevention remedies, no matter how many doctors and midwives caution against it.
It was for this reason that Mary Apple created Pretty Pushers, the first legitimately cute and functional hospital gown designed to cover up all the unpleasant stuff. While Apple swears by the Pretty Pusher gown for a more comfortable and covered birth, she says she also took the advice of her midwife and used a “natural colon cleanser” before labor began. “At 41 weeks, my midwife suggested castor oil. The taste and texture were pretty awful, so I mixed it with orange Gatorade. At first nothing happened, and then I found myself on and off the toilet for the next few hours. Although the pain felt like what I imagined contractions would feel like, they were in fact just abdominal cramping — in other words, poop pains! Although I was disappointed to find that that I was still at 1 cm when I got to the hospital, I must attribute my ‘poopless labor’ to that magic castor oil/orange Gatorade concoction.”
When it all comes down to it, there’s no magic bullet that can guarantee you won’t push out a little something extra during labor. Most health professionals encourage pooping while pushing as a healthy byproduct, and some moms swear by natural remedies that should only be used under the care of a doctor or midwife.
Barring natural remedies and a pre-labor enema that doctors no longer recommend, there are a few common sense things you can do to “get moving” before you deliver:
- Eat plenty of fiber — clean eating leading up to birth is not only good for the baby, it can help your body to naturally cleanse stool as your uterus starts to contract.
- Drink plenty of fluids — drinking enough water will help to prepare your body for the marathon that is to come, and it will keep your bowels moving right along.
- Take frequent bathroom breaks — in the early stages of labor and before the real fun begins, go to the bathroom often to give your body the chance to release stool.
The good news is that when it’s all said and done, pooping during labor isn’t that big of a deal — amidst all the chaos, you’re probably not going to know it happened anyway.