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Chewing Gum May Speed Up Recovery From C-Sections

September 2, 2009

Researchers have found that moms who chew sugarless gum after their cesarean section may have better luck getting their bowels working again.

When analyzing a group of women after having a C-section, Egyptian researchers discovered that women regained regular bowel function sooner if given chewing gum, thereby decreasing their time in the hospital.

Slowed intestinal function is common with abdominal surgery, which causes the great discomfort of gas and constipation.

The act of chewing gum triggers a nervous system response and release of digestive hormones that in turn stimulate the bowels, said Dr. Karim Abd-El-Maeboud and colleagues at Ain Shams University in Cairo.

This finding is good news, since it provides a safe and incredibly cheap solution for a common side-effect. The women in the study expressed that they were “generally pleased” with the its effectiveness, Abd-El-Maeboud told Reuters Health in an email.

The researchers also emphasized that the benefit of a shortened hospital stay should not be taken lightly. Developing countries could particularly be helped, where their healthcare resources are limited.

The study was published in the obstetrics journal BJOG, and involved 200 women who had a C-section under general anesthesia.

Approximately 50 percent of the women were randomly assigned to begin chewing sugarless gum two hours after the surgery. The other group of women was given the standard care, such as encouraging a bowel movement by getting out of bed and walking around.

Those chewing the gum were instructed to chew one piece of gum for 15 minutes every two hours.

The researchers found that the women in the gum-chewing group generally regained normal bowel activity more quickly than those who did not chew gum. On average, they achieved their first bowel movement 21 hours after the C-section, as opposed to 30 hours in the standard-care group.

The gum-chewing group were also discharged from the hospital sooner, about 41 hours after delivery, compared with 50 hours in the other group.

The researchers were still unable to ascertain 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.

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