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Constipation During Pregnancy

Constipation during pregnancy is a very common problem that plagues over half of all pregnant women at some point in their pregnancy. The symptoms of constipation include abdominal pain, discomfort, and regular difficulty passing stools. There are many reasons why pregnant women experience constipation:

Causes of Constipation During Pregnancy

The main cause of constipation during pregnancy is the production of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is known to slow down the digestive system and the movement of food through the digestive tract. But progesterone isn’t the only reason why women battle constipation throughout their pregnancies. Other causes include:

Too much iron: Many women have trouble balancing their iron intake during pregnancy, so they take iron supplements, which can make constipation worse.

Pressure on the rectum: As the pregnancy progresses and the uterus continues to grow, an increasing amount of pressure is placed on the rectum. This pressure can make it difficult to pass stools, and result in constipation.

Pressure on intestines: As with the rectum, the uterus also applies pressure to the intestines as it grows, making bowel movements difficult.

Emotions: Emotions are known to play a crucial role in a pregnant woman’s health. Too much worry and anxiety can lead to constipation.

Lack of exercise: As many women face fatigue during pregnancy, exercise is an important role, especially when it comes to constipation. Light exercises can help food pass through the digestive tract easier, plus exercise is beneficial to help other issues pregnant women face, including fatigue, positive attitudes and mood swings.

Low-fiber diets: Fiber is a great source of nutrition, and it’s also known to help break down food so that it passes more easily through the digestive tract. Eating meals that are high in fiber can help a pregnant woman prevent constipation.

Prevention and Treatment of Constipation During Pregnancy

Prevention and treatment of constipation tend to go hand-in-hand. Many treatment methods also work as prevention methods. If you are trying to prevent or relieve constipation, try doing some of these things:

Drink plenty of fluids: Fluids, especially water and natural fruit juices such as apple or prune juice, can prevent and treat constipation. Drinking 10–12 cups of fluids a day, especially if you’re increasing your fiber intake, is essential to alleviating constipation.

High-fiber diets: Consuming 25–30 grams of fiber per day will help with constipation. You can get this amount of fiber by adding fresh fruits and vegetables, breakfast cereals, bran, and whole grain breads into your diet.

Exercise: Exercise is a great stimulant, especially when it comes to your digestive tract. When you are not active, everything in your body tends to slow down. Taking short walks can help reduce chances of dealing with constipation throughout your pregnancy. Learn more about exercise and pregnancy here.

Reduce iron supplements: It’s never good to eliminate a supplement that you might need during your pregnancy, unless you are instructed to do so by your healthcare provider. Many women have difficulty maintaining the proper amount of iron in their systems. If you are taking iron supplements and feel constipated, talk with your healthcare provider about reducing the amount of iron supplements you are taking. Good nutrition can often provide sufficient iron to maintain good health.

OTC medications: Over-the-counter medications such as Metamucil can help soften stools and relieve constipation. It’s important, however, to discuss with your healthcare provider what products are safe to take, especially products that are bought over the counter.

Laxatives: Many people argue that laxatives are bad for a pregnant woman because they sometimes stimulate uterine contractions and cause dehydration. Others say certain laxatives, such as the stool softener Colace, are safe for pregnant women because the body doesn’t absorb the active ingredients. It’s important to talk with your health care provider before taking any type of softener or laxative.

Medical References:

    Jewell DJ, Young G. Interventions for treating constipation in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2001;(2):CD001142. West L, Warren J, Cutts T. Diagnosis and management of irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and diarrhea in pregnancy. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 1992;21(4):793–802 National Institute of Health, Treating Constipation During Pregnancy, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3418980/
[Page updated March 2015]