Do women poop when giving birth?
As a labor and delivery nurse, the most common worry I heard from pregnant people was: “What if poop when giving birth?!” To a pregnant person this may sounds like a nightmare wrapped up in utter humiliation. But trust me when I say, “Yes, it happens, and nobody else in the room cares.” Furthermore, while it might be embarrassing for some birthing people, there’s a very good reason why it is so common. If you’re concerned or embarrassed about pooping during labor, these facts may help set your mind at ease.
You probably won’t know if you are pooping during labor.
If a birthing person tells you they never pooped during vaginal delivery, they may be among a small percentage of people who did not pass a stool during childbirth. It is also quite possible that they did have a bowel movement, but didn’t realize it happened, and no one told them.
Doctors, nurses, and midwives are familiar with poop during labor. It’s almost expected. While it’s highly common for people to pass stool during labor, providers see no need to talk to their patients about it and possibly cause unnecessary worry. It is such a normal occurrence, and honestly, most birthing people aren’t even aware it is happening.
Wherever you choose to birth, there is usually an absorbent pad placed underneath you. If you have a bowel movement, the pad will be changed quickly. Clean cloths and towels will be available to clean up any mess. The doctor or midwife, nurses, or assistants will be discreet, and no one will be the wiser. It is likely that your partner will not even be aware. Providers are very quick and sneaky about it!
During active labor, you will feel intense sensations and pressure. By the time you’re ready to push, poop will probably be the last thing on your mind. However, if you’re truly concerned about passing stool, ask your provider and the nursing staff not to mention it. And even if you forget to ask, they probably won’t tell you anyway.
Most women poop when giving birth.
Prior to the pushing stage, birthing people 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. It is also common during normal labor to have loose stools, so the body often will pass stool naturally, prior to the pushing stage.
As labor progresses and baby descends, he or she will put more and more pressure on the rectum. Your body can’t differentiate between the sensation of a bowel movement and a baby. This is why it is also very common for a pregnant person who is about to deliver to say, “I have to poop!” While this may be true, it is more likely that it is the pressure from the descending baby creating the sensation that the baby is coming out of your bottom. However, if you feel like you have to poop and your baby’s head isn’t about to be born, you can usually walk to the restroom (if you do not have an epidural) and see what happens. In fact, for some people, pushing while sitting on the toilet is very effective and feels most natural.
When you begin to bear down to push your baby out, it is the same motion as pushing a big poop out of your rectum, only much more powerful and intense. The pushing effort, combined with the extra pressure on your colon and rectum from the weight of the baby moving through the birth canal creates the perfect scenario for pooping during labor. If there is stool in your colon, the pressure of your baby will push it out. In fact, you may even hear your nurse or provider say “If you poop while pushing, you are pushing correctly!” This can be especially helpful to know if you have an epidural and do not have an intense urge to push. So, relax your pelvic floor and don’t hold back when they ask you to push like you’re pooping.
Pooping during birth may serve a purpose.
There’s another reason a little poop during delivery might not be such a bad thing, although the research is new and ongoing. When stool is pushed out of the rectum at the time of birth, the baby may come in contact with bacteria that could have long-term health benefits.
Introducing: the microbiome. The microbiome is the community of microorganisms living inside and on our bodies. It’s thought that these bugs can influence our health in many ways, including helping with everything from digestion to being able to fight off colds. But interestingly, babies are born with a sterile gut, meaning, they don’t have any bacteria in the large intestine. The very first bacteria baby comes across are from the vagina of the birthing person, if delivery went down that way. When the birthing person poops, baby can pick up important gut bacteria. Shortly after, a baby is exposed to more bacteria on her parents’ skin and, often, in breast milk. The bacteria colonize the baby’s gut, forming baby’s microbiome.
That doesn’t mean you should intentionally rub stool on your baby.
There are a lot of other things in feces that isn’t healthy, like pathogenic bacteria. So even though poop could confer some benefits, swabbing it on is not recommended by experts. Research in this area is ongoing, and studying the transfer of bacteria from birther to baby is tricky, because there’s no system for tracking which babies came into contact with feces during their birth and how their health fares as they grow up.
Until there is a greater understanding in this area, consider this another reason you shouldn’t worry about pushing and pooping. And on the flip side, don’t worry if passing stool isn’t part of your birth experience!
Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Hamady M, Fraser-Liggett CM, Knight R, Gordon JI. The human microbiome project. Nature 2007; 449: 804–10.
Guarner F, Malagelada JR. Gut flora in health and disease. Lancet 2003; 361: 512–9.