Causes of constipation in pregnancy
- During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone causes the smooth muscles of the large bowel to relax allowing food to stay around longer in the digestive tract so that more nutrients can be absorbed by you and your baby.
- The enlarged growing uterus places extra pressure on the rectum while taking up valuable space normally occupied by the bowel making it harder for it to keep on moving at its normal pace.
- Iron-containing prenatal vitamins and iron supplements may cause constipation too.
Coping with constipation
- Add more fiber to your daily diet such as whole grain cereals and breads, fresh fruits, raw and steamed vegetables (with skin left on it), beans and dried fruit, whilst cutting back on refined foods that can aggravate the problem such as white rice and white bread, refined cereals and pasta.
- An intake of 25-35 grams of fiber daily is recommended but it should be gradually added to the daily diet to prevent bloating. Consult your health care professionals on this.
- Drink plenty of water and fluids and drink warm liquids – especially in the morning. An intake of 6-8 glasses of water (at least) and 1-2 glasses of fruit or prune juice is recommended daily. During pregnancy, waste moves through the body more slowly than usual. This allows water to be removed from the waste, which contributes to constipation. Keep yourself well hydrated to help keep bowel movements soft. This is also true when breastfeeding as the body takes more fluids to make breast milk.
- Eat six small meals instead of three large ones.
- Schedule a bathroom time for yourself.
- Go promptly to the bathroom when feeling the urge to as holding it can weaken bowel muscles, making it harder to push the stools.
- Avoid straining during bowel movements to prevent haemorrhoids.
- Regular physical activity can help keep bowel movements regular (a brisk walk, a swim).
- Many of the supplements recommended in pregnancy (prenatal vitamins, calcium, and iron supplements) can worsen the problem. It is good to check with your doctor some other alternatives (such as slow-release or food state iron supplements) or a dosage adjustment until the situation improves.
If the problem does not ease with above advice you may need to ask your doctor to recommend a stool softener to help moisten bowel movements. It is better to stay away from laxatives during pregnancy as some types of them can be used safely in pregnancy while others aren’t recommended.