Constipation refers to when a person is having infrequent or difficult bowel movements, often characterized by not passing stool in three days or more. Its symptoms can include stomach bloating, hard or small stools, straining to pass a bowel movement, and a feeling of having to go but being unable.
There are a wide variety of reasons why a person may be suffering from constipation, from changes in their lifestyle, poor dietary choices, and even stress. But you may be surprised to learn that pregnancy increases the risk of constipation and can be serious if left untreated.
Below, we explore why constipation is common in pregnancy and how you can manage its symptoms.
Cause Of Constipation In Pregnancy
It’s not uncommon to experience constipation in pregnancy, and there’s a simple reason why – hormones. In pregnancy, the body produces an increase of progesterone in order to help allow the uterus to grow and prepare for labor.
Progesterone works by relaxing all the muscles in the body, not just the uterus. This includes the muscles in the intestines and bowel. As What to Expect explains, this slows down digestion and allows food to remain in the digestive tract for longer, which can result in constipation.
Moreover, the outlet adds that as the uterus expands as the pregnancy progresses, this also takes up space occupied by the bowel. This can interfere with its usual activity, thereby increasing the likelihood of constipation.
Ways To Treat Constipation
There’s no denying that constipation is uncomfortable and inconvenient, whether you’re pregnant or not. But there are plenty of ways to get your bowels moving, many of which are natural and perfectly safe while expecting.
To relieve constipation in pregnancy, try the following:
Eat Foods Rich In Fiber
As per Mayo Clinic, Eating foods rich in fiber helps increase the weight and size of stool. When the stool is bulkier, it’s easier for the bowels to move it, thereby reducing constipation. If you’re suffering from constipation in pregnancy, an easy way to combat it is to introduce fiber-rich foods into your diet. Aim to eat 25 to 35 grams per day.
Foods high in fiber include:
- Dark chocolate
- Legumes (such as lentils, beans, and chickpeas)
- High fiber grains (such as popcorn, oats, quinoa, and most whole grains)
- Certain vegetables (carrots, beets, broccoli, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, and kale)
- Certain fruits (pears, strawberries, avocados, apples, raspberries, blackberries, and bananas)
Fiber also has other benefits. It can help reduce cholesterol, helps control blood sugar, promotes a healthy weight, and can reduce the risk of stomach cancer.
Avoid Refined Grains
On a similar note, it’s important to avoid foods that are known to cause constipation. One of the worst foods for keeping things backed up is refined or processed grains and carbohydrates since they have a low fiber count. Avoid anything like cereal, pasta, white bread, and white rice.
Consider Taking Probiotics
Certain probiotics (such as acidophilus) help encourage intestinal bacteria to break down food and keep it moving, thereby promoting bowel movements. Look for foods like yogurts that contain probiotics, or speak with your healthcare provider about introducing a supplement into your diet.
Drink More Water
Making sure you’re drinking enough fluids is another easy way to relieve constipation. Water is essential to digestion, as it keeps food moving along and makes the intestines smooth and flexible. It also makes the stool softer and easier to pass, thereby alleviating symptoms of constipation.
Pregnant women are more prone to dehydration since the body requires more fluid than normal to support the growing fetus, including increased blood flow. Women who are expecting should aim to consume 8 to 12 cups (64 to 96 ounces) per day.
Get Enough Exercise
Exercise is another natural way to encourage bowel movements. If you’re not moving enough, it can slow down the tract tract and weaken muscles. In pregnancy, women are recommended to get at least 150-minutes of moderate exercise per week (or 30 minutes for 5 days).
Give Kegels A Try
Kegel exercises are used to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. They have a variety of benefits, including relieving constipation. As Hulst Jepsen Physical Therapy explains, these exercises can help relax pelvic muscles. When the pelvic floor is relaxed, it helps encourage bowel movement.
Research guides online to learn how to perform Kegel exercises safely in pregnancy, and be sure to discuss your prenatal workout routine with your doctor.
Review Medication & Supplements
What to Expect Explains that many of the supplements and medications women are instructed to consume in pregnancy can cause constipation, including calcium, antacids, prenatal vitamins, and iron supplements.
It’s a good idea to review your current supplements and medications with your doctor to see if this could be contributing to your constipation. They may advise you to take an alternative, like a slow-releasing iron supplement, or may adjust the dosages. You may also be instructed to take a supplement like magnesium to help promote bowel movements.
Be Weary Of Laxatives
While laxatives are known for helping stimulate bowel movements, not all of them are safe in pregnancy. Don’t grab an over-the-counter laxative without consulting your doctor first. They can advise what’s safe (and what’s not), and can provide other alternatives to get things moving.
Don’t Hold It In
Finally, if you have to go then go. People who hold in a bowel movement when they have an urge to go to the bathroom are at an increased risk of constipation, whether pregnant or not. So, choosing to hold it in raises the risk of constipation and can exacerbate existing symptoms. The bottom line is you should always go to the bathroom as soon as you feel an urge.
When To See A Doctor
Even though constipation is common in pregnancy, that doesn’t mean there aren’t signs that can indicate you may benefit from medical help. If you experience the following symptoms while constipated in pregnancy, we advise you to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Be on the look-out for:
- Blood in stool
- Unintended weight loss
- Stomach or abdominal pain
- Severe pain when passing stool
- Constipation has lasted for more than two weeks
- Size, shape, and consistency of stool have changed
As WebMD explains, long-lasting constipation that goes untreated can lead to a variety of consequences, including hemorrhoids and rectal prolapse. Though these are rare, especially in pregnancy, early signs should not be avoided.
For more information on constipation in pregnancy, including natural remedies for how to relieve this uncomfortable condition, please speak to your healthcare provider.
Sources: What to Expect, HJ Physical Therapy, Mayo Clinic, Healthline, WebMD, WebMD,
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