What to Know About Postpartum Constipation

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 23, 2023
4 min read

Constipation is common in women during the time after giving birth, which is known as the postpartum period. The postpartum period is the first six weeks after giving birth. During this time your body starts to heal and adjusts to no longer carrying a child.

During postpartum many things may happen as your body tries to go back to normal. One of the things your body might have to deal with is constipation. Usually, your bowels will return to normal a few days after you give birth to your baby.

Constipation. When you are constipated, you have uncomfortable and infrequent bowel movements. This is when you pass hard and dry poop, and not very much of it. Constipation is the most common issue with the digestive system.

Some of the causes of constipation include:

  • Lack of enough water in the body. Eating lots of fiber without drinking enough water could lead to constipation. The fiber in your poop needs water to be big enough for you to pass.
  • Absence of fiber in the diet. Fiber isn't digested by the body so it makes your poop bigger and easier to pass.
  • Routine changes. Changes to your normal routine disrupt your bowel movements.
  • Some medications. Medications like narcotics, antidepressants, and antihypertensives are known to cause constipation.
  • Pregnancy. When you are pregnant, the growing baby in your womb puts pressure on your intestines. Also, reduced activity and changing hormone levels because of pregnancy can cause constipation from time to time.
  • Aging. Your intestinal muscles lose some of their strength as you grow older. Another reason for constipation in old age is the reliance on a lot of medication.
  • Ignoring the urge to go to the toilet. Ignoring the urge to poop when your body wants to can make it hard to poop when you want. This is because your body absorbs the water from your poop while it's still in your system.
  • Not exercising. Lack of exercise or restricted movement could cause you to be constipated.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome. Constipation is one of the signs of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Hospitalization. Bed rest is a common cause of constipation. This is because of the change in your routine, taking less food, potential pain from surgery, and the use of pain medication like morphine.

Symptoms of constipation. It is important to note that the symptoms of constipation may look like other medical conditions. Because of this, you should always talk to your doctor for a clear diagnosis of your condition. Different individuals may experience the symptoms of constipation differently.

Here is a list of the most common symptoms of constipation:

  • Painful passing of poop
  • Passing small, hard, dry poop
  • Feeling like your bowel is not empty even after you poop
  • Bowel movement causing you to strain too much
  • Taking longer than usual to pass poop
  • Bloating
  • Cramps or pain in your stomach or intestines

Causes of postpartum constipation. Postpartum constipation occurs in a lot of women after giving birth. This is after bowel movements begin to resume a few days following delivery. However, a few issues might cause problems as your digestive system returns to normal. Some of the causes of postpartum constipation include:

  • Pregnancy hormones
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Iron supplements
  • A painful episiotomy site, if you had one performed 
  • Damage to your anal sphincter during birth

Tips to help you deal with postpartum constipation. Below are some tips you can use if you are experiencing postpartum constipation:

  • Drink lots of fluids (at least eight to 10 glasses of water every day)
  • Include things like green vegetables, cereals (whole grain), bread, fruits, and bran in your diet
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat prunes (a natural laxative)
  • Drink a warm liquid every morning
  • Use mild laxatives or fiber supplements if other methods do not work

Sometimes your constipation may not resolve. This may lead to it becoming chronic and you can develop serious complications. Complications of constipation can include:

  • Rectal prolapse: This is caused by the repeated straining of trying to pass poop, causing a part of the rectal lining to come out of the anus.
  • Fecal incontinence: After some time of your intestines not being able to get rid of waste, it can become so full that some poop comes out by itself.
  • Urinary incontinence: Constant straining while emptying your bowel will weaken your pelvic floor muscles. This causes involuntary passing of urine especially when you laugh, sneeze or cough.
  • Hemorrhoids: Straining too much when passing poop may damage the blood vessels in your rectum.
  • Fecal impaction: This is when your rectum is so full of poop that the muscles of your bowel are unable to push it out.

Prevention of Postpartum Constipation

Prevention mainly consists of adding foods high in fiber to your diet and drinking more fluids during postpartum.