One of my strongest, most visceral, and arguably dumbest nightmares that I had during my pregnancy would be that I'd accidentally give birth on the toilet. I mean, can you go into labor while pooping? Is that even a thing? I don't know where this fear came from, but it caused me a lot of anxiety around going to the bathroom. I was concerned. The motions of pooping and labor seem pretty closely related.
Obstetrician Natasha Chinn, MD, FACOG of Brescia and Migliaccio Women's Health in New Jersey, tells Romper that my fears were fairly rational — going into labor while pooping is possible. Although, it is more common for women to poop while they're already in the thick of labor. “Bowel movements are common in the second stage of labor during pushing," Chinn says. "This occurs because the same muscles used to have bowel movements are used for pushing out a baby.”
That was my other big fear: pooping on the table in front of my husband and everyone else in the delivery room. That fear is both valid, and really, really misguided. You're having a baby. Blood, viscera, stuff that looks like cream cheese, and a brand new human that you created, are coming out of your body. Pooping is literally the least of your bodily concerns at that point. When I later asked my husband if I went number two while giving birth to our child, he said "Like I'd have noticed with everything else happening at that minute." Good answer, husband. Good answer.
Chinn says that a significant number of women actually try to bring on their labor by making themselves poop, like with the popular old wives' tale that instructs women to "take a laxative or enema." While purported to bring about childbirth in full-term women, Chinn says that, in reality, it isn't the pooping that is making these women go into labor, but the dehydration that happens secondary to all the enema's or laxative's effects. When the woman "is dehydrated from multiple bowel movements or just not drinking water, a hormone in the brain called antidiuretic hormone (ADH) is released," she says. "This hormone is not only structurally very similar to oxytocin, but it is also released from the same part of the brain as oxytocin. Therefore oxytocin often leaks out during ADH's release." When combined with the similarity of the hormones, it can cause the uterus to contract. But bowel movements on their own do not cause labor, according to Chinn.
The Nemours Health System also cautioned that the practice of taking a laxative like castor oil to induce your labor, even at full term, is unwise and unsafe. "It is not safe to try to artificially start labor yourself by taking castor oil, which can lead to nausea, diarrhea, and dehydration. And herbs and herbal supplements meant to induce labor can be harmful," the website noted.
Can you go into labor while you're pooping if you're constipated or just really pregnant? It's possible. Just like it's possible to go into labor in the grocery store, at yoga class, your older kid's soccer game, or in church. UnityPoint Health Systems reported that when you go into labor is a guessing game driven by more factors and with more symptoms than any of us would probably like to imagine.
As it so happens, I did not go into labor on the toilet, nor did I care at that point if I crapped all over the the table in front of all of humankind. Mostly, I cared about getting that child out of my body as efficiently as possible, and the devil take the hindmost.
If you're concerned that you're going into labor, or that you're showing signs, call your OB-GYN. They'll steer you right, and you might even get to poop on them in thanks for all their hard work. Don't worry, they're used to it.