By Michelle Gilley, CPM, BSM
The physiological processes of pregnancy and birth have everything to do with space and movement. Before a pregnancy is even well established, hormones alone cause shifting of organs to begin creating space for the uterus to grow. As pregnancy advances, the spine curves, intestines move out of the way, diaphragm moves upward, lung space shrinks and the structure of the pelvis relaxes. All of this movement is part of a process of spatial rearrangement in anticipation of birthing your baby.
Leading up to birth, pre-labor hormones sometimes causes gastric emptying which prepares for birth by making space and slowing digestion so the body can reserve metabolic output for labor and birth. In labor, spatial adaptation continues as baby shifts, rotates and adjusts to fit through the pelvis. Labor hormones cause further give to the pelvic bones and the sacrum expands as pressure builds from fetal descent.
Often it is when birth is impending that the urge to have a bowel movement happens. Sometimes that urge is from the immense pressure from baby’s head moving downward. Sometimes it is the need to have a bowel movement. And sometimes it is from both.
“What if I poop?” - “I’m sorry I’m pooping” - “I’m embarrassed, I know I pooped”
These are comments we hear occasionally as providers. But not to worry! Having a bowel movement during labor and birth is incredibly normal and can even be a sign of progress. None of your birth partners or team should judge, shame or make you feel badly about it. If someone has ever shamed you during birth about this before, we’re so sorry that happened because it’s not okay.
How can we normalize something like pooping during birth? It may seem trivial, but many people feel embarrassment or judgement about it. Pooping is a productive and physiological part of birthing so we should treat it as such. Here are some ways you can help change how this part of birth is viewed and talked about:
Normalize the process. If you hear someone teasing or shaming someone about pooping during birth, speak up! You’ve read this and now you know how to explain why shit happens.
Provide reassurance. If someone seems embarrassed about it, reassure them it’s normal. If you are a birth partner and are feeling worried about it, you can rest easy knowing it is a sign of progress. Be supportive by normalizing it instead of using negative comments or reactions.
Don’t try to prevent it from happening. There’s no need to take stool softeners, use enemas or other methods to try to prevent it from happening. If it happens earlier in labor you can sit on the toilet for a while if you want or you can stay right where you are if that position is working for you at that time. Whether in land or water, your provider can easily remove the poop from the space. No big deal.
Expect respect from your team. Birth providers are used to being around birth and that includes poop and other body fluids. We aren’t worried about it. So as a point of validation to anyone who is wondering: there is absolutely no justification for a provider to make a big deal about it.