Chewing gum for enhancing early recovery of bowel function after caesarean section

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Oct 17;10(10):CD011562. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011562.pub2.


Background: Caesarean sections (CS) are the most frequent major surgery in the world. A transient impairment of bowel motility is expected after CS. Although this usually resolves spontaneously within a few days, it can cause considerable discomfort, require symptomatic medication and delay hospital discharge, thus increasing costs. Chewing gum in the immediate postoperative period is a simple intervention that may be effective in enhancing recovery of bowel function in other types of abdominal surgeries.

Objectives: To assess the effects of chewing gum to reduce the duration of postoperative ileus and to enhance postoperative recovery after a CS.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (20 June 2016), LILACs (20 June 2016), (20 June 2016), WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) (20 June 2016) and the reference lists of retrieved studies.

Selection criteria: All randomised controlled trials comparing chewing gum versus usual care, for women in the first 24 hours after a CS. We included studies published in abstract form only.Quasi-randomised, cross-over or cluster-randomised trials were not eligible for inclusion in this review.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected the studies for inclusion, extracted data and assessed the risk of bias following standard Cochrane methods. We present dichotomous outcome results as risk ratio (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) and continuous outcome results as mean differences (MD) and 95% CI. We pooled the results of similar studies using a random-effects model in case of important heterogeneity. We used the GRADE approach to assess the overall quality of evidence.

Main results: We included 17 randomised trials (3149 participants) conducted in nine different countries. Seven studies (1325 women) recruited exclusively women undergoing elective CS and five studies (833 women) only included women having a primary CS. Ten studies (1731 women) used conventional feeding protocols (nil by mouth until the return of intestinal function). The gum-chewing regimen varied among studies, in relation to its initiation (immediately after CS, up to 12 hours later), duration of each session (from 15 to 60 minutes) and number of sessions per day (three to more than six). All the studies were classified as having a high risk of bias due to the nature of the intervention, women could not be blinded and most of the outcomes were self-reported.Primary outcomes of this review: for the women that chewed gum, the time to passage of first flatus was seven hours shorter than those women in the 'usual care' control group (MD -7.09 hours, 95% CI -9.27 to -4.91 hours; 2399 women; 13 studies; random-effects Tau² = 14.63, I² = 95%, very low-quality evidence). This effect was consistent in all subgroup analyses (primary and repeat CS, time spent chewing gum per day, early and conventional feeding protocols, elective and non-elective CS and time after CS when gum-chewing was initiated). The rate of ileus was on average over 60% lower in the chewing-gum group compared to the control (RR 0.39, 95% CI 0.19 to 0.80; 1139 participants; four studies; I² = 39%, low-quality evidence). Tolerance to gum-chewing appeared to be high. Three women in one study complained about the chewing gum (but no further information was provided) and none of the studies reported adverse effects (eight studies, 925 women, low-quality evidence).Secondary outcomes of this review: the time to passage of faeces occurred on average nine hours earlier in the intervention group (MD -9.22 hours, 95% CI -11.49 to -6.95 hours; 2016 participants; 11 studies; random-effects Tau² = 12.53, I² = 93%, very low-quality evidence). The average duration of hospital stay was shorter in the intervention compared to the control group (MD -0.36 days, 95% CI -0.53 to -0.18 days; 1489 participants; seven studies; random-effects Tau² = 0.04, I² = 92%). The first intestinal sounds were heard earlier in the intervention than in the control group (MD -4.56 hours, 95% CI -6.18 to -2.93 hours; 1729 participants; nine studies; random-effects Tau² = 5.41, I² = 96%). None of the studies assessed women's satisfaction in relation to having to chew gum. The need for analgesia or antiemetic agents did not differ between the intervention and control groups (average RR 0.50, 95% CI 0.12 to 2.13; 726 participants; three studies; random-effects Tau² = 0.79, I² = 69%).

Authors' conclusions: This review found 17 randomised controlled trials (involving 3149 women). We downgraded the quality of the evidence for time to first passage of flatus and of faeces and for adverse effects/intolerance to gum chewing because of the high risk of bias of the studies (due to lack of blinding and self-report). For time to first flatus and faeces, we downgraded the quality of the evidence further because of the high heterogeneity in these meta-analyses and the potential for publication bias based on the visual inspection of the funnel plots. The quality of the evidence for adverse effects/tolerance to gum chewing and for ileus was downgraded because of the small number of events. The quality of the evidence for ileus was further downgraded due to the unclear risk of bias for the assessors evaluating this outcome.The available evidence suggests that gum chewing in the immediate postoperative period after a CS is a well tolerated intervention that enhances early recovery of bowel function. However the overall quality of the evidence is very low to low.Further research is necessary to establish the optimal regimen of gum-chewing (initiation, number and duration of sessions per day) to enhance bowel function recovery and to assess potential adverse effects of and women's satisfaction with this intervention. New studies also need to assess the compliance of the participants to the recommended gum-chewing instructions. Future large, well designed and conducted studies, with better methodological and reporting quality, will help to inform future updates of this review and enhance the body of evidence for this intervention.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cesarean Section / adverse effects*
  • Chewing Gum*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Ileus / etiology
  • Ileus / therapy*
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy*
  • Pregnancy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Time Factors


  • Chewing Gum