Physical Therapist and author, Marianne Ryan explains why squatting is the best position for emptying your bowels and offers other solutions for constipation.
As a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health, and a mother of two, I can tell you one thing most pregnant and postpartum women have in common - constipation! Not only is it uncomfortable but it can also lead to several problems such as straining the pelvic floor muscles and hemorrhoids. In this blog, I am going to share some of my best tips for preventing constipation.
Tip 1 – Diet
First of all, if you want to prevent constipation make sure to eat a diet that is high in fiber and that you stay well hydrated.
Tip 2 – Exercise
Regular exercise, like walking, has been shown to increase the movement of the bowels and prevent constipation.
Tip 3 – Toileting Habits
One of the best ways to prevent constipation is by improving your toileting habits. Believe it or not, our internal organs were actually designed to eliminate waste in the squatting position rather than in the upright-seated position we assume when we sit on the toilet. Squatting can make defecation easier and reduce the need to strain.[i]
So you might be asking, so how do I squat when using the toilet? The simple answer is to raise your feet so that your knees are above hip level when you try to pass a bowel movement. You could try placing yoga blocks or a stool under your feet to raise them to the correct height. Once you have arranged your blocks:
- Sit with your feet apart and resting on the blocks or stool.
- Relax your stomach muscles
- Lean forward and place your hands or forearms on your thighs
- Instead of straining, try gently exhaling and saying “mmmmmmm” as you pass a bowel movement
- Do not remain on the toilet for more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time - this is not the best time to read your favorite gossip magazine or catch up on Facebook
Note: If you’ve had a total hip replacement, make sure to get medical clearance from your doctor before using the squat position.
There is product on the market called the Squatty Potty® which offers the perfect solution by supporting your feet and placing your body in a squat position. It fits neatly around your toilet and is made of plastic so is easy to clean. You can easily find it by googling Squatty Potty
Tip 4 - Constipation Massage[ii]
The self-massage for constipation is simple and easy to perform. It consists of circular motions applied over a path of approximately ten spots in your lower abdomen, to help move the bowel content.
Note: If you are a new mom and had a vaginal delivery, you can do this abdominal massage as early as a day or so after you delivered your child. However, if you had a cesarean section you should wait for at least a month until your scars are well healed. In either case, it is best to wait until you have medical clearance from your doctor before doing this massage.
How to do Abdominal Massage
- Lie down in a comfortable spot like your bed. Place a pillow beneath your knees.
- Place 2-3 fingers in the lower right side of your abdomen, over the first massage spot (see the illustration below), and gently apply a constant and moderate pressure. If you experience pain, lighten the pressure. Maintain this pressure as you move your fingers in a clockwise, circular motion for approximately 10 seconds. Note: Do not use counterclockwise strokes.
- Move to the next massage spot and repeat as above.
- Gradually continue the clockwise massage circles up towards your rib cage, then across to the left side of your abdomen, and down to the inner-left side of your pelvis.Each massage path should last a total of 1 minute.
- Repeat the entire massage path from your right side to your left side 3-4 times, once a day.
If these simple tips do not work then a physical therapist or physiotherapist who is a women’s health specialist can offer treatment to help resolve constipation. Don’t be too embarrassed to seek help.
The therapists at Marianne Ryan Physical Therapy have a lot of experience in treating issues that may cause constipation. If you would like to make an appointment for physical therapy treatment or get one-to-one advice on how to get your body back in shape after childbirth please fill out the contact us form here.
In my book, Baby Bod®, I discuss healthy toileting habits in more detail in Chapter Seven. If you’d like to receive future posts direct to your inbox then you can subscribe by using the subscription box on this page.
I love to read your stories, thoughts and questions so please share them in the comments box below.
References[i] McClurg D, Lowe-Strong A. Does abdominal massage relieve constipation? Nursing Times. 2011.107(12):20-22. http://www.nursingtimes.net/Journals/2013/01/18/m/y/j/290311Does-abdominal-massage-relieve-constipation.pdf [ii] Sakakibara R, Tsunoyama K, Hosoi H, et al. Influence of Body Position on Defecation in Humans. LUTS: Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms. 11 Jan 2010; 2(1):16-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1757-5672.2009.00057.x.
MARIANNE RYAN PT, OCS is a physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. She is the owner and Clinical Director of MRPT Physical Therapy, and a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association Media Corps. With more than 30 years' experience, she specializes in the treatment of the spine, pelvis and jaw, with particular emphasis on the treatment of prenatal and postpartum patients. She has taught physical therapy treatment and exercises for prenatal and postpartum women on the nurse midwifery program at Columbia University School of Nursing, and has also taught at the TMJ clinic at New York University Dental School. A much sought-after media guest, Marianne has appeared on dozens of national TV and radio shows, and has also been featured in Red Book, Fitness Magazine, USA Today, Shape Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. She was also featured in the film Drifting, a documentary about movement produced by the Tribeca Film Institute. Passionate about helping women to restore their stomachs after pregnancy and childbirth, Marianne is author of the book Baby Bod® - Turn Flab to Fab in 12 Weeks Flat.