Fear of childbirth pain may top every pregnant person's list, but once you've wrapped your mind around the hurt that is to come, there's another big fear lurking in the delivery room: losing your shit on the birthing table — literally.
One of the most common pieces of advice given to new parents who have not yet had the pleasure of squeezing a baby out of their vagina is to "push like you're pooping." In other words, pushing as if you're having a bowel movement is going to help you get your baby out quickly. But, of course, it may also have its intended effect, causing you to poop while giving birth.
Most birthing parents who are already nervous about a whole team of doctors and nurses hanging around looking at their vulva don't like this one bit. Many want to do everything they can to avoid this "side effect." And those fears (of embarrassment as well as pain) do matter; a 2012 Norwegian study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology found birth to be over an hour longer for women who were afraid of doing it. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education, fear of birth is associated with anxiety, longer labors, a higher likelihood of having epidural anesthesia, maternal preferences and requests for elective and emergency cesarean surgeries. But do you really need to be afraid of pooping during birth?
We asked skilled medical professionals to break down the burning question on every preggo's mind: Is it possible to give birth without pooping — and does it matter?
Pose this question to your doctor, nurse or midwife, and they likely 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."
Plus, if and when you do poop, consider it a good sign. Dr. Christine Greves, a doctor at the Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Orland Health, told Today in April 2018, "If women poop during the delivery, they are using the right muscles."
Of course, medical expertise is the bottom line, but we all know that pregnant people can get a little cuckoo when surfing the internet in the wee hours after a night of tossing and turning. The fact remains that expectant preggos are still looking for poop-prevention remedies, no matter how many doctors and midwives caution against it.
Mom Mary Apple says she 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 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." Of course, a "remedy" like this should only be used under the advice of your doctor or midwife.
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. But most health professionals encourage pooping while pushing; it's a healthy by-product.
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 naturally cleanse stool as your uterus starts to contract (that is, during early labor rather than the pushing stage).
- 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 poop before you push.
The good news is that when it's all said and done, pooping during labor is totally normal — and amidst all the chaos, you're probably not going to know it happened anyway.
A version of this article was originally published in January 2016.