It's not as horrifying as you think—really!


If you’re not a mom, here’s something you might not know about birthing a baby. When you’re going about it the old-fashioned way—aka delivering vaginally—you just might poop while you’re pushing.

Yep, right there on the delivery table or in your bathtub or any other place you’ve elected to partake in the miracle of childbirth. In front of your doctor, doula, midwife, partner, family... and birth photography crew.

“A lot of patients may think, ‘Oh my gosh! I don’t want to!’” says Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at Orlando Health Hospital, and really, who could blame them?

But ob-gyns swear that pooping during delivery is totally normal—and it might even be a good thing.

For starters, it means you get an A+ on the whole pushing thing. “When we tell a woman to push, they use all of their might and their entire pelvic floor to try to get the baby out,” Dr. Greves explains. “If there’s pooping involved, that’s just a sign you’re using the correct muscles.” She promises that any professional attending your birth is accustomed to this, and they'll usually wipe away any poop before you have time to realize and become mortified by what has happened.

Squeamish moms-to-be often inquire about getting an enema before labor to help them avoid any embarrassment. While pre-delivery enemas used to be more common, modern doctors and midwives don't usually recommend this, says Annette Fineberg, MD, an ob-gyn at Sutter Health in Davis, California.

Also, it’s not wise to avoid using your pelvic floor muscles during delivery in an attempt to avoid pooping. “Please use those muscles, so I know you can get that baby out safely!” Dr. Greves says. In fact, when the pros coach new moms on how to push, they’ll usually say something along the lines of “Push like you’re having a bowel movement,” Dr. Fineberg adds.

It’s obviously not something anyone really wants to do in front of another human being. But Dr. Fineberg offers one nugget of comfort if you do poop: “There’s only a finite amount. It’s going to stop—it’s not like you’re doing it the whole time!”

Yet there’s another reason a little poop during delivery might not be such a bad thing, although the research is still in its infancy (sorry). When a newborn and a new BM arrive at the same time, the baby may come in contact with bacteria from mom that could have long-term health benefits.

Let’s back up for a minute: Heard of the microbiome? It’s the community of microorganisms living inside and on our bodies. It's thought that these bugs can influence our health in many ways. But interestingly, infants are essentially blank microbial canvases. “Our current thinking is that babies are born with very few bacteria,” explains Grace Aldrovandi, MD, a professor of pediatrics and chief of infectious diseases at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. “When they’re born, they’re assaulted by billions of bacteria.”

The very first bugs a baby comes across are from her mom—specifically, from her mom’s vagina, if delivery went down that way. Shortly after, a baby is exposed to bacteria on her mother's skin and, often, in her breast milk. The bacteria colonize the baby's gut, forming her microbiome, explains Rob Knight, PhD, professor and director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego.

But some researchers are starting to think that fecal matter might be involved too. “Some of the gut bacteria a mom has in her intestines are going to be in the environment as the baby’s exiting the birth canal,” says Tracy Shafizadeh, PhD, director of scientific communications for Evivo, a company that makes probiotics for babies. Evivo argues that critical bacteria are missing from babies who aren’t delivered vaginally, setting them up for weaker immune systems and metabolic issues unless the bacteria are replaced in the form of probiotics.

While there is some evidence that fecal bacteria from mothers are present in a newborn's microbiome, their “relative importance to vaginal microbe transfer is unknown and needs further study,” Knight says. Infant microbiomes look more like a mother’s vaginal microbiome than an adult gut, he adds.

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That doesn't mean you should rub poo on your baby. “There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t healthy [in feces], like pathogenic bacteria,” Dr. Aldrovandi warns. Even if poop could confer some perks, swabbing it on is not recommended by experts. Same goes for vaginal seeding, whereby mothers who deliver via C-section dab their infants with vaginal secretions to try to get those bacterial benefits.

Studying the gut gifts from mom to baby is tricky, Dr. Greves says, in part because there’s no system for tracking which babies came into contact with fecal matter on their birthdays and how their health held up years down the line. Until experts have a greater understanding, don't panic about pushing and pooping.