Constipation during pregnancy is a common problem and nearly half of all pregnant women get constipated at some point. Constipation occurs when there is abdominal pain or discomfort, difficult and infrequent bowel movements, and the passage of hard stools.
What causes constipation during pregnancy?
In general, worry, anxiety, minimal physical exercise, and a low-fiber diet may cause constipation. Constipation during pregnancy is due to the increase in progesterone hormones that relax the intestinal muscle causing food and waste to move slower through your system.
Sometimes iron tablets may contribute to constipation. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water if you are taking iron supplements. You may need to switch to a different type of iron tablet, but it is important to talk to your health care provider first.
How can I prevent or treat constipation during pregnancy?
Prevention and treatment of constipation involve many of the same steps.
Here are a few things that you can do to help prevent constipation from occurring or treat it if you are already experiencing it:
- Eat a high fiber diet: Ideally, you will consume 25 to 30 grams per day of dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables, breakfast cereals, whole-grain bread, prunes, and bran. This helps ensure bulkier stools that are easier to poop.
- Drink a lot of fluids: Drinking plenty of fluids is important, particularly when increasing fiber intake helps ensure softer stools. Drink 10 to 12 cups of fluids each day. It is the combination of a high fiber diet and plenty of liquids that best help you eliminate your waste. Sweat, hot/humid climates, and exercise may increase your need for additional fluids.
- Exercise routinely: If you are inactive, you have a greater chance of constipation. Walking, swimming and other moderate exercises will help the intestines work by stimulating your bowels. Schedule exercise three times a week for 20-30 minutes each.
- Over-the-counter remedies: There are over-the-counter products such as Metamucil (Category B) which may help soften your bowel movements and reduce constipation. Always speak to your health care provider before using over-the-counter medications.
- Reduce or eliminate iron supplements: Iron supplements may contribute to constipation. Good nutrition can often meet your iron needs during pregnancy. Taking smaller doses of iron throughout the day rather than taking it all at once can reduce constipation. Talk to your health care provider about checking your iron levels and recommendations to manage iron intake during pregnancy. Find natural ways to get iron here.
What remedies should not be used for constipation during pregnancy?
Laxative pills are NOT recommended for the treatment of constipation during pregnancy because they might stimulate uterine contractions and cause dehydration. Talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter fiber supplement or a laxative or stool softener.
Mineral oils should NOT be used during pregnancy because they reduce nutrient absorption.
Is constipation during pregnancy ever serious?
Usually not, but occasionally constipation during pregnancy can be a symptom of another problem. If you have severe constipation that’s accompanied by abdominal pain, alternates with 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 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 doctor.
Want to Know More?
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Compiled using information from the following sources:
Mayo Clinic Guide To A Healthy Pregnancy Harms, Roger W., M.D., et al, Part 3.
William’s Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 8.