Will You Have a Bowel Movement During Labor?

Man assisting childbirth in hospital

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The thought of having a bowel movement in labor terrifies many women. If you were to have a bowel movement (BM) in labor, it typically occurs when you are pushing the baby out. This happens as the baby's head descends and presses on the rectum, flattening it. This causes any stool in that area to be expelled.

If this happens, the people who are caring for you are prepared for it. They will immediately remove it and clean you up. They will not say anything about it.

Some women let this fear interfere with their pushing efforts. This is not necessary. While you may be worried, those around you are used to the occurrence.

Some women will have loose, frequent stools leading up to labor. This can act as a natural enema. Some women choose to do an enema at home in early labor to try to clean out their colon. This can be miserable and potentially lead to dehydration and will not necessarily prevent the presence of stool during your labor or birth.

The Emotional Concerns Behind the Fear

We live in a society that doesn't talk about things that happen in the bathroom. We barely talk about things that happen in the bedroom—most of us don't even want to acknowledge how we got pregnant. We have close relationships but draw the line, often at the bathroom door. One of the first things we say when giving advice to newly married couples is: don't use the bathroom in front of one another.

This can carry over into the birth room. While most practitioners think about this in terms of having a bowel movement in front of strangers, many women report that the person they are most concerned with is their partner.

"It just seemed weird," says April. "I certainly wouldn't invite him into the bathroom at home—what makes this labor room any different. He was reluctant to come in while I gave birth, now you want him to watch me push out a baby and a turd? No thanks."

Her solution after talking to her doctor, her doula, and her partner was to invite her partner in but he had to remain at her head. If a bowel movement occurred, no one was to acknowledge it and to just clean it up and move on. This worked well for her, even if some see it as extreme.

When asked how her partner played into it, one mom said: "I figure it's all a part of the package. If I vomit, you get to witness it, if my water breaks you're there, if I poo when the baby comes out—you get to be there too. You wouldn't be embarrassed to vomit when you have the flu, how is this different? Just a part of the process."

The key is to talk to your partner, talk to your practitioner, and as one mother suggests, talk to your therapist.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Reveiz L, Gaitán HG, Cuervo LG. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jul 22;7:CD000330. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000330.pub4. Enemas during labour.

  • Wickham S. Pract Midwife. 2008 Apr;11(4):16-8. The poo taboo.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.