Constipation in pregnancy: Causes and prevention
Constipation in pregnancy can start right from conception and then continue throughout it. Find out what causes it and how to prevent constipation.
Along with the glowing skin and lush locks that pregnancy brings, also come not-so-beautiful experiences, like nausea and constipation. In fact, constipation is a little-known side-effect of being pregnant. Some mums even experience severe pain from constipation during pregnancy. What causes this? And are there solutions to this unpleasant problem?
This article will tackle these issues and also give mums-to-be suggestions to ease severe pain from constipation during pregnancy.
First, you should know that constipation in pregnancy is quite common, affecting around one in three women. As with many other pregnancy issues, constipation too is mainly caused by pregnancy hormones. Specifically, progesterone.
Progesterone relaxes the muscles in the bowels. This means that food stays longer in your digestive system. While this give extra time for nutrients to absorb into your system, at the same time, it may cause a “poop traffic jam”.
Constipation in pregnancy can start very early, almost as soon as your progesterone levels start rising.
Other than progesterone, constipation during pregnancy can also be caused by:
- Your growing uterus pushing down on your bowels, restricting its usual tasks and activities.
- Too much iron in your prenatal vitamin
Even when not pregnant, we’ve all dealt with constipation at some point. But for some women, constipation during pregnancy can result in excruciating pain.
Here are three reasons for severe pain from constipation during pregnancy:
- Gas: this is caused by the slowing down of your digestion process. This gas can cause severe pain, either staying in your belly area, or travelling through your chest and back.
- Anal fissures: When you push and strain to pass large, hard stools, the lining of your anus can rip and tear. This wound is known as an anal fissure and can cause extreme pain.
- Nerve injury: If your bowels are distended because of constipation, this can put pressure on your sciatic nerve (this nerve runs from the lower back, down the back of each leg). The result? Severe pain.
Mums-to-be, there’s no need to suffer through nine months of severe pain from constipation due to pregnancy. Here’s what you can do to prevent it:
Foods rich in fibre help you better get rid of waste, preventing constipation. You should try to eat 25 to 35 grams of fibre a day. Here’s an example of the amounts of vegetables that will provide around 25 grams of fibre:
- cup carrot slices, cooked = 5 grams of fibre
- 1 cup cooked broccoli = 4.5 grams of fibre
- 1 cup raw carrots = 4 grams of fibre
- 1 sweet potato = 4 grams of fibre
- 1 cup cauliflower, cooked = grams of fibre
- 2 cups raw spinach leaves = grams of fibre
You can boost this by making the switch to whole-grain bread and cereals and eating plenty of fruits (tip: kiwi and prunes are great for easing constipation). Add some psyllium husk to your meals for a further fibre boost.
Avoid refined foods (e.g white bread, white rice, pasta and cereals) which can make things worse.
Remember, before making any radical changes to your diet, you should always check with your doctor first.
If you are increasing your fibre intake, then it’s even more important that you also up the amount of fluids you drink. Ideally, this fluid should be water, and you should drink around 10 to 12 cups a day. Avoid fizzy drinks, bottled juices (too much sugar) and excessive caffeine.
Regular exercise during pregnancy — even a 10-minute walk — can encourage bowel movements.
We know pregnancy can make you very hungry. But resist downing three large meals, which can cause stress on your digestive system. Instead, try eating six small meals. You’ll find that with this, you also experience less gas and bloating.
We’re not telling you to stop taking your prenatal vitamins. But sometimes, the extra iron and calcium that is found in some prenatal supplements can actually make constipation worse. Speak to your doctor about an alternative (like slow-release iron supplements), as well as taking a magnesium supplement, which could help.
It might be tempting to take an over-the-counter laxative to ease the constipation, but don’t do this. Speak to your doctor first, and go with their advice.
Also read: Natural relief for morning sickness