A big thank you to Ashley R. for sharing her hilarious story about castor oil during labor! I’m not one to use 4-letter words, but here’s one 4-letter word that you can’t avoid in life: POOP. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, poop happens. Even during labor.
After every birth I’ve attended, mom finds a quiet moment to pull me aside and ask the inevitable question, “Did I poop while I was pushing?” And more often than not, my answer is no….or at least I didn’t notice it if you did. With a laugh and tiny sigh of relief, mom turns her attention back to her new baby.
Why the concern about pooping during labor? For some reason we’re OK with the idea of pushing out a human, a placenta, and everything else that comes along with it. But we cringe at the idea of a little bowel movement?! While I can’t convince you to completely abandon your reservations about pooping during labor, hopefully I can help you see why it really is less monumental than you think.
Why does pooping during labor happen?
As the head descends through the pelvis and into the birth canal, mom feels the urge to push or bear down. If you have an epidural, you might have only a mild sensation to push, or just a sense of pressure. If you are unmedicated, you will likely feel an uncontrollable urge to push — it’s a sensation that’s almost impossible to ignore. Often first-time moms don’t recognize that it’s the baby that they’re feeling in the birth canal. They just think that they need to poop.
Much of effective pushing involves your transverse abdominal muscles (check out the great blog post about pushing from our Kopa® Partner, MomBod Fitness). But as baby’s head descends, you’ll find yourself using the same muscles that you use when you push out a bowel movement. Thus, occasionally a little poop is expelled.
Additionally, pause to consider the female anatomy. The rectum runs alongside the birth canal. As the head descends through the birth canal, it inevitably puts pressure on the tissues of the rectum. Thus, the mere process of baby being born and pushing on the rectum can encourage pooping during labor.
Why doesn’t everyone poop during labor?
Back in the day, women were given routine enemas during labor in the hospital to help clear out the lower bowel. This practice has long since been abandoned. Why? Because it’s not necessary! Many women will naturally have their bowels cleared out during early labor.
When early labor starts on its own, it triggers a release of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help encourage the softening and effacement of the cervix, and promote the contraction of smooth muscle, like the uterus. But prostaglandins aren’t picky about which smooth muscle they’ll visit, and the bowels (which are also made of smooth muscle) can be effected. This typically results in loose stools or diarrhea during early labor. The good news: You might not have anything left to poop during the pushing phase!
Do you have any advice if I’m still really nervous about pooping during labor?
For women who are particularly uncomfortable with the though of passing a bowel movement during pushing, I typically offer the suggestion of a warm compress. A warm compress is nothing more than a facecloth soaked in warm water and wrung out. Your doctor or midwife can hold a warm compress held against the perineum while you push, and it’s an evidence-based way to help prevent perineal tears. It also functions as a subtle way to cover the anus. If mom does happen to pass a little stool, the provider will quickly wipe it away with the warm compress and reach for a clean warm compress. The poop is gone. No one noticed. Done and done.
Avoid Castor Oil
After watching Ashley’s hilarious castor oil story (above), I think it’s worth mentioning that women who fear pooping during labor should avoid castor oil like the plague. Castor oil is an age-old drug that women occasionally use to induce labor because it stimulates and irritates smooth muscle. Irritation in uterine smooth muscle can lead to labor contractions. Irritation of the smooth muscles of the intestines and bowels leads to cramping and diarrhea. So, if you want to avoid poop, avoid castor oil.
A word for birth partners:
Dad, this nugget of wisdom is just for you, so pay close attention. If mom does happen to poop during labor, your job is to NEVER MENTION IT. Did you catch that? NEVER MENTION IT. Nuff’ said.
Kopa Birth’s online birthing classes allow you to prepare for a natural hospital birth from the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class and start preparing for your natural birth!
Husslein, P. (1984). The importance of oxytocin and prostaglandins to the mechanism of labor in humans. Wien Klin Wochenschr Suppl. 155:1-32.
Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J. & Bolding, A. (2010). Pregnancy, childbirth, and the newborn: The complete guide. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press, 280.
Tunaru, S., Althoff, T.F., Nusing, R.M., Diener, M. & Offermanns, S. (2012). Castor oil induces laxation and uterus contraction via ricinoleic acid activating prostaglandin EP3 receptors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA. 109*23): 9179-9184.