Constipation is a common issue during pregnancy, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a few ways to deal with this issue and relieve your discomfort.
The hormone progesterone can slow down the digestive system, which causes Constipation. If you’re struggling with Constipation and are looking for tips on dealing with it, then this blog post is just for you!
When Does Constipation Generally Start During Pregnancy?
Constipation tends to start as early as progesterone levels rise, around the second to the third month of pregnancy. It may get worse as pregnancy progresses and your uterus grows.
What Causes Constipation During Pregnancy?
An increase in the progesterone hormone during pregnancy causes the relaxation of your body’s muscles. That includes your intestines. And slower moving intestines means slower digestion. This can lead to Constipation.
The cause of Constipation during pregnancy depends on the stage at which it occurs. Possible causes include:
Changing hormone levels in early pregnancy cause the intestines to slow down the movement of stool through the bowel. This delay increases the amount of water the colon absorbs from the chair, making it more solid and difficult to pass.
Prenatal vitamins are chock-full of iron, a crucial mineral that can sometimes be deficient during pregnancy. Iron can cause Constipation and hard, black stools.
Pressure From The Uterus
In later pregnancy, the growing uterus can pressure the bowel, making it harder to move stool through the intestines.
In addition to infrequent bowel movements, Constipation can cause bloating, stomach discomfort, and challenging, dry stools that are painful to pass. It can also result in a feeling that not all the chair has given.
Constipation is common during pregnancy. Almost three out of four pregnant women will experience constipation and other bowel issues at some point, according to a study published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica ScandinavicaTrusted Source.
From over-the-counter pills to natural cures, there are a whole host of remedies available for relieving constipation.
But when pregnancy is involved, the number of solutions shrinks.
As with many other pregnancy symptoms, pregnancy hormones are the culprit behind Constipation.
Progesterone causes the muscles in your bowels to relax, allowing food to hang around longer in the digestive tract.
The upside is there is added time for nutrients to be absorbed into your bloodstream and reach your baby.
The downside is you end up with a waste-product traffic jam. Your expanding uterus also takes up valuable space usually occupied by your bowel, cramping its usual activity.
What Can I Do About Constipation When I’m Pregnant?
You don’t have to resign yourself to nine months of discomfort.
There are plenty of tactics to combat colon congestion (all the while heading off hemorrhoids, a common side effect of Constipation):
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Fight Back With Fiber.
Fibre-rich foods help you eliminate waste; aim for 25 to 35 grams each day. Check the food labels if you want, but there’s no need to do the math.
Instead, focus on simply eating plenty of whole-grain cereals and bread, legumes (edamame and chickpeas), fresh fruits and veggies (raw or lightly cooked — preferably with the skin left on), and dried fruits.
Going for the green can also help you go, in both the form of leafy green vegetables and kiwi fruit, which packs a potent laxative effect—sample from this fibre-rich and tasty menu to get started.
Have you plugged up? Try adding some bran or psyllium to your diet, starting with a sprinkle and increasing as needed.
Be sure to check with your doctor first before you do this, though, and don’t go overboard since these fibre powerhouses can carry away essential nutrients before they can be absorbed.
(Also, be prepared for some flatulence, another common complaint of pregnancy, as well as a temporary side effect of upping the fibre in your diet.)
Taking fibre supplements or eating more fibrous foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can increase the number of stools and facilitate their passage through the intestines.
Adults should eat between 28 and 34 grams of fibre each day.
Try to avoid refined grains (white bread, white rice, refined cereals and pasta) when you can; they tend to back things up.
Every day, Downing between eight and ten 8-ounce glasses of fluids (water, vegetable or fruit juice and broth) keeps solids moving through your digestive tract and makes your stool soft and easier to pass.
You can also turn to warm liquids, including that health spa staple, hot water and lemon, to help stimulate peristalsis (the intestinal contractions that help you go).
Prune juice is a good pick for truly tough cases since it’s a mild laxative. Drinking enough water is essential to keep stool soft and easy to pass.
If a person feels that water is not helping, they can add clear soups, teas, and naturally sweetened fruit or vegetable juices to their diet.
Don’t Max Out At Mealtime.
Big meals can overtax your digestive tract, leading to things getting backed up. Try eating six mini-meals a day rather than three large ones, and you might also experience less gas and bloating.
Go When You Gotta Go.
Regularly holding it in can weaken the muscles that control your bowels and lead to Constipation, so try to go whenever you have to.
Consider Your Supplements And Medications.
Ironically, many of the supplements and medications that do a pregnant body good (prenatal vitamins, calcium and iron supplements, and antacids) can exacerbate Constipation.
So check with your practitioner about alternatives (such as slow-release iron supplements) or adjustments in dosages until the situation improves.
Also, ask your practitioner about taking a magnesium supplement to help fight Constipation. Taking it at night may relax achy muscles and help you sleep better, too.
Get Your Fill Of Probiotics.
The probiotic acidophilus, found in yogurts containing active cultures, stimulates the intestinal bacteria to break down food better to keep things moving.
You can also ask your practitioner to recommend a good probiotic supplement in capsules, chewable or powder form that can be added to smoothies.
Millions of healthy bacteria live in the gut and help it function correctly. Probiotics may help repopulate the gut bacteria with beneficial strains that encourage regular bowel movements. Foods high in probiotics include yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Get A Move On.
Regular exercise during pregnancy encourages regular bowel movements.
Even just a 10-minute walk can get things moving, so make sure you’re getting the recommended amount of practitioner-approved exercise.
Being active helps stool move through the intestines.
Getting regular exercise, with a doctor’s approval, can help relieve Constipation. However, if exercising is not a priority or possibility, try to fit in a gentle walk each day.
Stay Away From Stimulant Laxatives.
Not all laxatives and stool softeners (mainly herbal or homemade ones) are safe for use during pregnancy. Talk to your practitioner before taking any constipation medication or remedy.
Do Your Kegels.
Straining when you’re constipated (along with simply being pregnant and giving birth!) can cause your pelvic floor muscles to weaken, but regular Kegels can help keep those muscles stronger.
Watch Your Calcium Intake
Too much calcium can cause Constipation. Calcium is found in many foods and supplements, particularly dairy products. If you overdo it on the milk and cheese, you might find your bowels get backed up.
Food sensitivities can sometimes contribute to Constipation. Keep track of what you eat to see if certain foods (like dairy or gluten) are related to bouts of Constipation.
Talk With Your Doctor.
Let your provider know if at-home measures aren’t getting things moving. She may recommend over-the-counter meds like docusate or polyethylene glycol.
Some medications can increase the likelihood that you will have Constipation. One big culprit in pregnancy can be iron-laden prenatal vitamins, often given to help prevent anemia.
If you are having issues with the vitamins, ask your provider if you can switch. You might also try ways to prevent anemia nutritionally.
One study found that certain brands of prenatal vitamins might be able to reduce Constipation by up to 30%.
There are medications available to help with Constipation, but generally as a last resort.
These medications can be particularly problematic in pregnancy, and you would want to talk to your doctor or midwife before taking anything—even if it is over the counter (OTC).
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Other Remedies That Are Pregnancy-Safe
A diet high in fibre helps prevent Constipation. It also supplies pregnant women with vitamins and antioxidants.
Pregnant women should consume 25 to 30 grams of dietary fibre each day to stay regular and healthy.
Good choices include fresh fruits, beans, peas, lentils, bran cereals, prunes, and whole-grain bread.
Try cutting up some raspberries, apples, bananas, figs, and strawberries for a refreshing fruit salad. Or roast some sweet corn, Brussels sprouts, and carrots for a delightful side dish.
Try breaking up your daily food intake into five or six smaller meals to help with constipation relief.
This will allow the stomach to digest food without working overtime and will enable it to transfer food to the intestine and colon smoothly.
Eating large meals can overload your stomach and make it harder for your digestive system to process what you’ve consumed.
Regular physical activity can help reduce Constipation. Exercise stimulates your bowels.
Pregnant women should try to exercise three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes each.
The options for exercise are endless. Try walking down your favourite hiking path, swimming at your local gym, or practising prenatal yoga on a relaxing afternoon.
Check with your doctor about what exercises are safe for you and your baby.
If other natural options have failed, doctors will sometimes prescribe stool softeners like Colace on a short-term basis to help pregnant women with Constipation.
Colace stool softeners are available online. However, long-term use can lead to dehydration or change your electrolyte balanceTrusted Source.
Stool softeners help moisten your bowels, so they are easier to pass. They are handy for pregnant women taking constipation-causing iron supplements.
Doctors will often prescribe softeners along with iron pills. In addition, you can find a variety of iron supplements here.
Stool softeners are medications, so it’s best to check with your doctor if they are safe for you.
It is generally safe to use gentle laxatives, but using stimulant laxatives can induce uterine contractions.
If the home remedies above do not work, it may be time to discuss other options with a doctor.
For women taking prenatal vitamins high in iron, doctors may recommend trying a vitamin that contains less iron.
The primary medical treatment for Constipation in pregnancy is a laxative medication, which makes it easier and more comfortable to go to the bathroom.
It is generally safe to use gentle laxatives, but it is best to avoid stimulant laxatives because they can induce uterine contractions.
Although many laxatives are available over the counter, checking which one is safe to use with a doctor is essential.
Limited information is available about using some of these medications during pregnancy. However, women can usually safely use the following types of laxatives during pregnancy:
Bulk-forming agents mimic fibre by adding material to the stool and helping it absorb more water. By doing this, they make the chair larger, softer, and easier to pass.
These types of laxatives can cause some cramping or discomfort, so people should start with the lowest dosage and ensure that they drink lots of water.
Examples of bulk-forming agents include psyllium, methylcellulose, and polycarbophil.
Lubricant laxatives add a slippery coating to either the stool or the inside of the intestinal tract to aid the passage of stool out of the body.
Glycerin suppositories are one type of lubricant laxative. It is essential to always speak to a healthcare professional before using suppositories, especially when pregnant.
By drawing more water into the intestines, these laxatives help soften the stool. They also allow the bowel to contract more to move the chair along. Unfortunately, these types of laxatives can also cause cramping and bloating in the abdomen.
Examples of osmotic laxatives include polyethylene glycol and magnesium hydroxide.
Stool softeners add water to the stool to help make it softer and more comfortable to pass.
The stool softener that doctors most commonly recommend to pregnant women is docusate (Colace).
Is it Safe to Take Stool Softeners to Treat Pregnancy Constipation?
Stool softeners are generally considered safe during pregnancy.
Pregnancy constipation, defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week, can be uncomfortable.
Stool softeners, such as Colace moisten the stool and make it easier to pass. These products are unlikely to harm a developing baby because the body only minimally absorbs their active ingredient.
However, check with your healthcare provider before taking any medication — including stool softeners and other types of laxatives — to treat pregnancy constipation.
Keep in mind that pregnancy constipation can often be prevented with lifestyle changes. For example:
- Drink plenty of fluids. Water is a good choice. Prune juice also can help.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine. Being active can help prevent pregnancy constipation.
- Include more fibre in your diet. Choose high-fibre foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. With your health care provider’s OK, consider a fibre supplement, such as Metamucil.
- If you take iron supplements, mention Constipation to your health care provider. Although iron is an essential nutrient during pregnancy, too much iron can contribute to pregnancy constipation. You might have to take a stool softener if you are taking an iron supplement.
Can I Prevent Constipation During Pregnancy?
Healthy eating habits and regular exercise encourage a speedy digestive system, which can help prevent constipation during pregnancy.
Consuming lots of fibre-rich foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lentils), drinking enough water and staying (or getting) active can all combine to prevent Constipation by counteracting the natural digestive slowdown of pregnancy.
When Can I Expect Constipation to End While I’m Pregnant?
For some women, Constipation lasts throughout pregnancy as progesterone levels peak.
However, if you change up your eating and exercise habits, things usually begin moving more smoothly. And you can take steps to combat Constipation at any point during your pregnancy.
It is essential to speak to a doctor about the types of laxatives available and how often to take them.
In most cases, Constipation in pregnancy is short-lived and resolves with no or minimal treatment.
In rare cases, however, prolonged Constipation can cause fecal impaction, which may need removal by a doctor.
Continued use of certain types of laxatives can cause the bowel to “forget” how to push stool through the intestines.
These drugs can also cause electrolyte or fluid imbalances in some people. Such issues usually affect people who have other health problems, such as diabetes or kidney disease.
It is best to speak to a doctor about the types of laxatives to take and how often to take them.
When to See a Doctor
Pregnant women must speak with their doctor before taking any medication, including laxatives or other constipation remedies.
Seeing a doctor is also advisable if any additional symptoms occur, including:
- stomach pain
- constipation that lasts for longer than 1–2 weeks
- bleeding from the rectum
- no relief after using a laxative
As always, mention any other symptoms or concerns to the doctor for more specific information and advice.
Constipation relief during pregnancy is joint, and it can be remedied.
Just follow the steps above to help ease the discomfort of backed-up bowels while you wait for your little one to arrive.
Before you got pregnant, you might have used fibre pills and laxatives to help relieve the painful symptoms of Constipation.
However, these medications are not always safe or effective if you are pregnant. Ask your health care provider what the safest option is for you.
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