Constipation is a common problem during pregnancy. Up to half of pregnant women get constipated at some point.
One reason for constipation during pregnancy is an increase in the hormone progesterone, which relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, including the digestive tract. This means that food passes through the intestines more slowly.
And the problem may be compounded later in pregnancy by the pressure of your growing uterus on your rectum. Iron supplements, especially in high doses, can make constipation worse.
What can I do to relieve constipation during pregnancy?
Here are some tips for preventing and easing constipation when you’re pregnant:
- Eat high-fiber foods, including whole grain cereals and breads, brown rice, beans and fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
- Drink plenty of water. Try to have 10, 8-ounce cups of water or other beverages daily. If your urine is clear or pale yellow in color, this is a sign of adequate hydration. Some people find that drinking a warm liquid right after waking up helps get things moving. Drinking fluids is particularly important when increasing your fiber intake.
- Find consistent joyful movement to complete regularly. Walking, swimming, riding a stationary bike, dancing and yoga can all ease constipation and leave you feeling better.
- Listen to your body. Your bowels are most likely to be active after meals, so make time to use the bathroom after you eat if you need to. Don’t put off going to the bathroom when you feel the urge.
- Try another prenatal vitamin. If your prenatal multivitamin contains a large dose of iron (and you’re not anemic), ask your healthcare provider about switching to a supplement with less iron.
If the measures above don’t help (or it’s hard for you to follow them), talk to your provider about taking an over-the-counter fiber supplement or stool softener. The American Pregnancy Association offers tips here.
Fiber during pregnancy: your body’s expert plumber
Dietary fiber, with a recommended daily amount for pregnancy woman of 28 grams, is part of plant that digestive system cannot break down. However, rather than simply building up in, and clogging your system, fiber moves with relative ease through the digestive tract, and helps to ensure that all is running smoothly. Dietary fiber comes in two forms, soluble and insoluble.
Types of dietary fiber
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel, which helps manage cholesterol levels, and deal with high glucose levels and diabetes
- Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, and rather acts as a bit of a plow, making its way through the digestive tract pushing rogue bits of waste through
How does fiber help during pregnancy?
Although fiber is quite important for the digestive health of all men, women, and children, getting enough fiber becomes absolutely essential when you are pregnant. Due to the hormone-slowed digestive system and organ-displacing womb, many pregnant women will experience constipation, which can also lead to hemorrhoids. Consuming lots of fiber can help fight off constipation and keep you regular, which also goes a ways toward preventing hemorrhoids.
Is constipation during pregnancy ever serious?
Not usually, but occasionally constipation during pregnancy can be a symptom of another problem. If you have severe constipation that’s accompanied by abdominal pain, diarrhea, or you pass mucus or blood, call your doctor or midwife immediately. Also, straining during a bowel movement or passing a hard stool can lead to or worsen hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins in the rectal area. Hemorrhoids are common during pregnancy and can be extremely uncomfortable, though they rarely cause serious problems. In most cases, they go away fairly soon after your baby is born. However, if the pain is severe, or if you have rectal bleeding, call your provider.
What are some good sources of fiber?
Dietary fiber comes from a wide range of food groups, including:
- Fruits: Raspberries, bananas, pears, and apples (both with skin on) contain the highest fiber contents out of any fruit. Oranges, strawberries, and figs also have high amounts of fiber
- Grains: Spaghetti, barley and bran flakes are the best types of grain-based foods fiber-wise. Oatmeal, popcorn, and brown rice also contain a significant amount of fiber
- Nuts & legumes: Nuts and legumes have incredibly high amounts of fiber, with the highest in content being split peas, lentils, black beans, and lima beans. Many other kinds of nuts and seeds are also high in fiber
- Vegetables: Artichokes, peas, and broccoli contain the highest amounts of fiber out of all the vegetables, though most vegetables have significant amounts, including Brussel sprouts, potatoes (skin-on), and carrots
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.