Constipation is among the most frequent and uncomfortable complaints during pregnancy affecting most pregnant women. It is defined as difficulty in emptying the bowels, infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of usually hardened feces that persists for many days, often several weeks or longer.
In order for your body to grow a healthy baby, hormones slow down the digestive process during pregnancy and allow food to spend more time in the absorption phase. While this is healthy, the longer the food spends in the intestine, the more water is pulled from waste resulting in constipation during pregnancy.
Causes of constipation
You and your baby need more calories, healthy vitamins and nutrients when you are together than you ever will need apart. In order for you to grow a healthy baby, hormones slow down the digestive process and allow food to spend more time in the absorption phase. While this is healthy for everyone involved, the longer the food spends in the intestine, the more water is pulled from waste. By the time last night’s meal makes it to the colon, it can be dried out and hard to pass and therefore cause constipation. This constipation is normal and not often harmful to health but can leave you feeling sluggish and uncomfortable.
Some constipation during pregnancy is normal, but mom needs to watch her body carefully. If a bowel movement has not passed in several days, seeking help from her attending physician may be in order. If waste is left in the body for too long, impaction can occur and that means someone has to dig out what mom can’t pass.
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Treatment for constipation
Treating constipation during pregnancy is all about preparation and realizing that water is the number one health food while pregnant. Water helps to lubricate the bowels and keep them moving in the right way.
- Drink a lot of fluids: Drinking plenty of fluids is important during pregnancy, particularly with your increase in fiber. Drink 10 to 12 cups of fluids each day. It is the combination of a high fiber diet and lots of liquid that best help you eliminate your waste. Sweat, hot/humid climates, and exercise may increase your need for additional fluids.
- 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. Eating extra fiber can also help you pass old waste, but with more fiber comes the need for more water. Fiber is a bulk-forming laxative that requires water to work. Without extra water, constipation during pregnancy may become worse.
- Exercise routinely: If you are inactive, you have a greater chance of constipation. Walking, swimming and other moderate exercises help the intestines work by stimulating your bowels. Schedule exercise three times a week for 20-30 minutes each.
- 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.
- 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 doctor before using over-the-counter medications.
- Laxative pills are not recommended for the treatment of constipation during pregnancy because they might stimulate uterine contractions and cause dehydration.
- Mineral oils should not be used during pregnancy because there is an increased reduction in nutrient absorption.
- Other ways of making the poo move include eating healthy fruits and green vegetables, and eating smaller meals throughout the day as opposed to large meals that may put too much pressure on the digestive system.