- Constipation while pregnant is common and usually not something to be concerned about.
- There are several different causes of constipation, but some diet and lifestyle changes are the simplest ways to manage these infrequent bowel movements.
- It’s best to keep your doctor or midwife in the know if you’re experiencing any side effects while pregnant, including constipation.
Are you experiencing constipation in your pregnancy? Perhaps you’ve dealt with constipation at other times in your life, but it’s the first time you’re facing symptoms while expecting. It can already feel difficult to navigate the changes in your body as your baby grows, and constipation is certainly no exception. Many women suffer from constipation symptoms (so at least you’re in good company,) and luckily, there are several ways to manage this discomfort. With these tips, you’ll be smooth sailing in no time.
What causes constipation in pregnancy?
Constipation can cause infrequent, hard or dry bowel movements, pain in the abdomen, bloating and more—one of the less glamorous aspects of pregnancy. Mild constipation is generally defined as three or fewer bowel movements a week. It’s a condition nearly half of all pregnant women experience, which means you’re not alone.
While it may feel like an extremely personal topic, there’s absolutely no shame in expressing any discomfort you might be feeling and the urge to get it under control. In fact, there are several reasons why you might be experiencing constipation. Understanding the causes can help you take action to get those BM’s under control.
5 common constipation causes
- Increased progesterone: As your hormones change in your pregnancy, so do other bodily functions. Increases in progesterone throughout your pregnancy may relax your intestinal muscles. As a result, this change causes your bowel movements to become less frequent. Increased progesterone is natural and nothing to be worried about.
- Anxiety: Changes in your stress levels can also be a culprit for irregularity. As your hormones continue to fluctuate, so can your mood. Symptoms of anxiety (which occur in 52% of pregnant women) can affect your bowel movements, so working on reducing stress and anxiety can help get things moving.
- Lack of exercise: You may be surprised to learn that a lack of physical exercise can also affect your bowel movements. The truth is, if your body gets moving on the outside, the inside will follow! Even if you’re experiencing fatigue, it’s best to maintain a healthy activity level, not only to get things in motion.
- Some medications: Finally, any additional medication you’re taking can affect regularity. If your physician has prescribed anti-nausea medication or iron tablets, it’s very possible they could be playing a part.
- Weakened pelvic muscles: Problems with pelvic muscles (the vagina or rectum) or organs (bladder or uterus) can also cause constipation. This happens if your body is unable to properly relax or contract to eliminate stool effectively.
What are some pregnancy constipation remedies? Do prenatal vitamins help with constipation?
- Omega-3 DHA: Begin with a prenatal vitamin that has DHA (a fatty acid essential for brain development during pregnancy) along with other nutrients. Enfamom Prenatal Vitamins contain Omega-3 DHA, which can help soften stool. If you don’t want to take a prenatal vitamin, consider finding other ways to incorporate DHA into your diet. Some dietary sources of DHA include fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, or mackerel. Plant-based sources of DHA are less common but can be found in some edible seaweeds and algae (such as nori, seaweed or spirulina).
- Hydrate: Drinking plenty of water can help eliminate waste more consistently. Be sure to aim for 10-12 cups of liquid a day, but keep an eye on ingesting too much sugar. Sweating or living in a hotter or humid climate means that you’ll have to be extra diligent with watching hydration levels, so drink up!
- If you’re not a fan of plain old aqua, consider adding lemon or lime, going for fizzy water, or turning to low-sugar bevvies to jazz up your hydration game.
- Another way to boost bowel movements is opting for warm beverages. Any hot beverage (even hot water) can help stimulate a bowel movement, as warm liquid helps increase blood flow and gastrointestinal activity. Time to bust out the herbal tea!
- Consume fiber: There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Most Americans only get an average of 10 grams of fiber a day, but it’s recommended to consume 25 to 30 grams per day. Fiber helps move stool along the digestive tract. The best sources come from natural, whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. Both soluble and insoluble fiber only come from plant-based foods—there is no fiber in meat or dairy.
If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough fiber, try out these tips:
- Incorporate more fiber into your diet by adding new dishes you may not have tried in the past. These recipes are packed with important nutrients for you and baby during pregnancy.
- Consider swapping what you already eat for more fiber-rich dupes. Some easy swaps to incorporate more fiber can be switching from white to whole grain breads, white rice to brown rice, swapping sugary cereals at breakfast for heart-healthy oatmeal, and snacking on fruits throughout the day (apples and oranges travel well if you’re constantly on the go!)
- Start food prepping for the week (or longer). High fiber foods like beans and grains (such a buckwheat, quinoa, barley and millet) can be cooked in larger batches and reheated easily—most grains and beans last 3-4 days in the fridge, and up to 2 months in the freezer.
- Exercise: Maintaining an exercise regimen keeps your intestines working. Remaining inactive can increase your chances of constipation because your bowels are no longer as stimulated. Another reason is that a lack of exercise can lead to increased stress levels and more anxiety in some people. Consider taking walks throughout the day (bonus points if you’re able to get out in nature) or practicing light yoga to keep you moving.
Can constipation hurt the baby during pregnancy?
Luckily, constipation is generally something that only you have to worry about. Your baby will not be affected by irregular bowel movements. It is important for you to keep an eye on constipation, however, as larger stools may lead to rectal fissures or bleeding.
If I’m constipated, when should I contact my doctor?
If you’re experiencing mild constipation, you should mention that in your next visit with your doctor or midwife, and in the meantime, try to incorporate some of the advice above. If you are feeling stressed about constipation, though, you can always give your doctor a heads up sooner for peace of mind (as anxiety can exacerbate the issue, definitely something you’ll want to avoid!)
It’s important to note that some severe bouts of constipation that are accompanied by other issues (such as alternating between constipation and diarrhea, or if you pass blood or mucus) should be flagged asap. If this is the case, you should contact your doctor immediately. These cases are generally rare, and manageable with help from your healthcare professional.
Managing constipation during pregnancy
With all the above suggestions in mind, finding relief for constipation can be challenging for some, but smooth moves are possible. Make a plan to speak to your doctor to create one that incorporates hydration, light exercise, and the right diet with plenty of fiber. Managing those three factors can significantly improve your bowel movements.