Chewing on some sugarless gum may be a low-tech way to help new moms get their bowels moving again after a cesarean section.
In a study of women who had a C-section, Egyptian researchers found that giving the women chewing gum afterward seemed to help them recover normal bowel function and shorten their time in the hospital.
As with any abdominal surgery, intestinal function can become sluggish for a time after a C-section, leading to gas and constipation.
Gum may help because the act of chewing sets off a nervous system response and release of digestive hormones that stimulates bowel activity, according to Dr. Karim Abd-El-Maeboud and colleagues at Ain Shams University in Cairo.
What's more, the solution is safe and inexpensive, and women in the study seemed "generally pleased" with it, Abd-El-Maeboud told Reuters Health in an email.
And the benefits of a shorter hospital stay should not be underestimated, the researcher noted, especially in developing countries with limited healthcare resources.
The study, which appears in the obstetrics journal BJOG, included 200 women who underwent a C-section under general anesthesia.
About half were randomly assigned to start chewing sugarless gum two hours after the procedure, while the rest were given standard care only — which included getting out of bed and walking around to encourage the intestines to get moving again.
Women in the gum group were told to chew one stick for 15 minutes every two hours.
Overall, the researchers found, women in the chewing-gum group were quicker to regain normal bowel activity. On average, they had their first bowel movement 21 hours after the C-section, versus 30 hours in the standard-care group.
They also went home from the hospital sooner — about 41 hours after delivery, on average — compared with 50 hours in the other group.
What remains unclear, according to the researchers, is whether chewing gum could be as useful in more-developed countries, where women usually receive regional, rather than general, anesthesia during C- section.
Regional anesthesia, which includes epidurals and spinal blocks, may interfere with the nervous system activation by which chewing is thought to boost bowel activity.
More studies, Abd-El-Maeboud said, are needed to test the effects of gum chewing in women having an epidural or spinal.