Gut health struggles for postpartum mommas Part 1; No matter how far postpartum, this could still be you!
I hear it all of the time.
”My digestion was just never the same after I had the baby.”
Many a woman is struggling with digestive distress after birth and their lives are so full that they don’t always have the time to acknowledge it to themselves, never mind address it.
But it’s not uncommon and unfortunately, it probably isn’t going to resolve on it’s own, UNLESS it’s strictly due to hormonal changes, which is possible, but even then the recommendations in this article will help you survive digestion and elimination experiences in the meantime!
Let’s talk briefly about the reason why our digestion and elimination experiences can be different after birth.
Many hospital births require the administration of antibiotics during labor. When warranted, this intervention can prevent systemic infection, but unfortunately it can significantly alter your gut microbiome by obliterating many of the beneficial organisms that live there, leaving space for the flourishment of some not-so-beneficial organisms like Candida (yeast). You can read more here from Dr. Amy Myers!
Your digestion processes as well as elimination (pooping) is effected by various levels of hormones (progesterone and estrogen) in the body and as you probably know your hormones are still in flux for a little while after baby.
Possible increase of inflammation and intestinal permeability
There is preliminary evidence that pregnancy alters the barrier integrity of the intestines and increases low levels of inflammation in some individuals, depending on their microbiome and weight pre-pregnancy (Kerr et al. 2015) . And there is loads of evidence that individuals engaged in long endurance exercise events (ahem-birth) temporarily experience increased intestinal permeability that leads to diarrhea, cramping and digestive distress (Cronin, 2017). While labor fits this description, research being conducted on how labor and delivery impacts the mom’s intestinal lumen is NOT readily accessible or visible in the peer-reviewed literature-and so I looked to Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine to see what those vastly under-used resrouces thinkMore later!
Unintentional shifts in diet
If you’re breastfeeding and or recovering from birth, then you need to consume more calories than you are probably doing so. Additionally if you’re tired and don’t have time or energy to prepare meals or are just looking for easy snacks, then you most likely consuming a higher amount of starchy carbs (they are the convenientist!). This which will in turn change the landscape of your microbiome (in high quantities, it can cause bad bugs to proliferate) and can make digestion/elimination move a little bit more slowly.
Forgetting to chew your food, or eating faster
Digestion begins with the teeth and enzymes in the saliva! A habitually fast eater pre-baby, I was SHOCKED to see how much faster at eating I became after having kiddos. When we get a moment to eat, we are often famished and or pressed for time and so we tend to eat FAST! But there is a communication that must happen between the mouth, brain and gut in order to ready our body for digestion. The parasympathetic nervous system slows heart rate, increases intestinal activity and opens gastric sphincter in order to facilitate the NOT uncomplicated process of digestion.
Precision Nutrition has a great synopsis on this topic:
“Think of digestion as a chain reaction. As soon as we see, smell, or think about food (step 1), we start salivating to prepare for putting that food in our mouth (step 2). Saliva contains enzymes that break the food down, and moistens the mouth for easier swallowing.
Meanwhile, digestive steps 3, 4, 5 etc. have to get ready to go to work. Our stomachs start to secrete more acid. Our small intestine starts to get ready for some peristalsis. And so forth.
If we rush this process, we force our GI tract to deal with stuff before it’s fully prepared. Surprises are great on birthdays, not so great during digestion.”
Trying to digest food that has NOT been properly broken down by the stomach acid and enzymes can be really hard on the gut AND it can cause us to OVER-eat. While over-consuming calories is NOT something I want you to stress about, eating too much, too fast can be uncomfortable and cause bloating, cramping and other forms of digestive distress, ESPECIALLY if it’s foods that are difficult to digest like protein and fibrous veggies.
Stress and lack of sleep
Motherhood is stressful. New babies are a lot of work, I don’t care if this is your first or your fourth, a new person in the mix always changes the dynamics and routine of the household. That coupled with lack of sleep can TOTALLY lead to stress mental, emotional and mechanical stress on the body. Stress slows things down. It kills your good bugs. It diverts blood away from our gut so that we can’t digest and absorb nutrition efficiently and over the longterm the gut becomes MORE permeable to toxins and food particles. When these guys get in our blood stream they can make us food intolerant and cause all sorts of negative responses to foods, including rashes, bloating, cramping, diarrhea…
Stress is also part of life!
It’s fine, don’t stress about it, but keep reading about ways to help MANAGE these changes.Ok, well this is the situation we find ourselves.
ONE or possibly ALL of these variables are messing with our digestion and causing bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation or a little bit of EVERYTHING.
So what can we do about it?
Head on over here to read Part 2
Armstrong LE, Lee EC, Armstrong EM. Interactions of Gut Microbiota, Endotoxemia, Immune Function, and Diet in Exertional Heatstroke. Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018;2018:5724575. doi:10.1155/2018/5724575.
Benedict, C., Vogel, H., Jonas, W., Woting, A., Blaut, M., Schürmann, A., & Cedernaes, J. (2016). Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation in normal-weight young individuals. Molecular Metabolism, 5(12), 1175-1186. doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2016.10.003
Cronin O, O'Sullivan O, Barton W. Gut microbiota: implications for sports and exercise medicine Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 11 January 2017. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097225
Kerr, C.A., Grice, D.M., Tran, C.D., Bauer, D.C., Li, D., Hendry, P., and Hannan, G.N. (2015). Early life events influence whole-of-life metabolic health via gut microflora and gut permeability. Crit Rev Microbiol. 41(3):326- 40.
Sarah Smith is a personal trainer, level two Russian Kettlebell Instructor, postnatal fitness specialist and pelvic floor and gut health advocate with a Masters in Agricultural Science.
She works online and in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Sarah specializes in helping women online and in-person feel strong, confident and capable in their bodies!
She is a mom to three boys and one English Bulldog. She loves soil, coffee and not folding laundry.