Constipation During Pregnancy: Causes, Treatments, And Prevention

Poop, There It Is — Except When You’re Pregnant And Constipated

Pregnancy constipation_pregnant woman at grocery store
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Each stage of pregnancy is uncomfortable in its own magical way, with symptoms phasing in and out as you move through the trimesters. But some annoying symptoms can settle in for the ride and overstay their welcome. Enter: pregnancy constipation.

When you’re constantly bloated and full — yet also ravenous — it’s hard to determine what feels normal and what doesn’t when it comes to your gastrointestinal functions. When constipation strikes, it can literally become a pain in the ass — so here are some tips to help manage constipation while pregnant and restore some (relative) peace to your bathroom experience.

What causes pregnancy constipation, anyway?

Typically, constipation occurs for a number of reasons including lack of hydration, a low-fiber diet, and minimal exercise. Certain medications can also cause constipation. Always speak to your doctor before adding or subtracting medications while pregnant. 

In pregnancy, additional biological and chemical factors are at play. Your expanding uterus is exerting pressure on the intestines, and the hormone progesterone is relaxing your intestinal muscles, which causes food to stick around longer in the digestive tract. The increase of iron (common in prenatal vitamins and also often prescribed as a supplement for patients with anemia) also plays a role in making it difficult to go.

How to treat and manage constipation during pregnancy.

The most common way to treat constipation is to keep well-hydrated. You should be drinking at least eight 12-ounce glasses of water a day. Drinking prune juice can help if you’re feeling particularly blocked up. Warm beverages such as tea or lemon water can be consumed in the morning to help get things moving.

Another excellent way to help alleviate constipation is to consume plenty of fibrous foods. Eat fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans, and whole grains. You should be consuming between 25 and 30 grams of dietary fiber a day. Talk to your doctor before taking a fiber supplement, as some supplements can decrease the absorption of certain medicines, like aspirin.

Limit your intake of refined grains such as white bread, white rice, refined cereals, and pasta (sorry!), as these foods can slow things down.  

Try spacing out your meals by eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of three big meals. Big meals can overwhelm your digestive system and slow things down.

You can also do some physical activity. Take the opportunity to go for a nice walk, a prenatal yoga session, or a gentle swim at least three times a week. Enjoy the peace and quiet while you can! Make sure you give yourself an hour to digest larger meals before exercising. 

If you find that your constipation is connected to your use of prenatal vitamins, calcium, or iron supplements, speak with your doctor about slow-release options or adjusting your dosage until you get the constipation situation under control.

Doctors will sometimes prescribe over-the-counter stool softeners on a short-term basis. You should talk to a medical professional before taking a stool softener while pregnant. Taking stool softeners long-term can cause dehydration or affect your electrolyte balance.

Written by Patricia Grisafi.