Postpartum gas is when a woman experiences increased flatulence after having a baby. Postpartum gas is common and usually goes away on its own but can also be a sign of a pelvic injury or underlying health condition.
In this article, we explore the causes of postpartum gas and bloating. We also cover when to see a doctor and treatment options, including home remedies.
A woman's body goes through many changes during and after pregnancy.
After giving birth, or postpartum, it is normal for a person to notice changes to their bowel movements. These changes may include:
- postpartum gas
- feeling bloated
- involuntary or loose bowel movements
These changes may happen whether the person had a vaginal or cesarean delivery.
The symptoms of postpartum gas include:
- flatulence, or farting
- sharp abdominal pain
- abdominal cramping
Depending on the cause, these digestive changes may resolve naturally or may require treatment.
Some causes of postpartum gas relate to an underlying health condition or factors that may be part of the birth process. These causes are often outside of their control. Other reasons relate to lifestyle factors and may be preventable.
Possible causes of postpartum gas include:
Pelvic floor damage
Pregnancy and giving birth may stretch and injure muscles and nerves in the pelvic floor. This may reduce the control a person has over passing gas.
The back of the pelvic floor controls the anus. It is not unusual for the anal sphincter muscles to tear during birth.
Anal injuries can lead to reduced control over gas. These injuries can also reduce a person's control over their bowel movements, known medically as anal incontinence.
Symptoms of anal incontinence may include:
- needing to pass stool urgently
- losing control over passing gas
- losing control over passing stool
- experiencing anal leakage
A person may need to undergo a minor surgical procedure called an episiotomy while they are giving birth. The doctor cuts between the vaginal opening and the anus to prevent tearing.
Sometimes an episiotomy can take a while to heal. It may also weaken the pelvic floor muscles and lead to symptoms of anal incontinence, including postpartum gas.
If a person has painful trapped gas after giving birth, this could be due to constipation.
A person with constipation has infrequent bowel movements, and their stools may be hard and lumpy. Constipation can also cause bloating and abdominal pain.
Constipation is common after giving birth and can sometimes be an ongoing problem.
Certain pain medications may cause a person to have immediate constipation, following the delivery. Long-term constipation is often due to diet or lifestyle factors.
Diet and lifestyle
Eating foods that contain fructose, lactose, sorbitol, or soluble fiber may increase gas. Examples of these are:
- processed foods
- chewing gum and candy
- dairy products
- whole grains
When a person wants to cut down on excess gas, it is a good idea to avoid processed foods, chewing gum, and candy. People can enjoy the other foods on this list as part of a balanced and healthful diet.
If a woman experiences postpartum gas, she can try eating less of each food type in turn. This can help identify what foods trigger their gas.
Swallowing too much air when eating may also increase gas. Being aware of this and trying to eat more slowly may help.
Some underlying health conditions may increase gas. These include:
If a person has symptoms of anal incontinence, such as losing control over passing stools, they should see a doctor.
Losing control over bowel movements means a person may have a pelvic floor or anal injury. They may have had the damage dealt with previously, but it might still require further treatment.
If a person has constipation for more than a few days, they should also consider seeing a doctor.
Postpartum gas that occurs without other symptoms does not typically require treatment.
Many people experience increased flatulence after giving birth. Postpartum gas usually goes away on its own or following changes in diet.
If people find that gas and bloating become an ongoing problem, they should speak to their doctor. For some, these symptoms could be due to an underlying health condition.
Following a delivery, and while a woman is still in the hospital, a doctor will normally repair any injury to the pelvic floor. If the wound does not heal properly, the individual may require further treatment.
Pelvic floor exercises called Kegels can help with recovery from anal incontinence.
Kegel exercises involve repeatedly tensing and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles a person uses to stop passing gas or urine.
It may also be helpful to see a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor care, as these specialists can advise what exercises are most appropriate. A person can discuss the need for seeing a physical therapist with a doctor following delivery.
Over-the-counter stool softeners or laxatives may provide relief from constipation in the short term. Dietary changes can also help to prevent constipation and gas from reoccurring.
If a person has ongoing gas and bloating due to an underlying condition, a doctor will recommend an appropriate course of treatment.
Postpartum gas is a natural part of having a baby and typically goes away on its own. Most people recover control of their bowels a few months after giving birth.
If other symptoms accompany postpartum gas, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor. The doctor can check if any pelvic floor injuries need further repair.
Kegel exercises can help a person regain control over their pelvic floor. If constipation is a factor, dietary changes may also help.
If a person has an ongoing health condition that is causing gas, the doctor can advise them on the best way to manage this.