Discomforts of Pregnancy: Constipation

Constipation occurs when there is abdominal pain or discomfort, difficult and infrequent bowel movements, and the passage of hard stools. Unfortunately, constipation affects approximately half of all women at some point during their pregnancy.

What causes constipation during pregnancy?

In general, worry, anxiety, minimal physical exercise, and a low-fiber diet may cause constipation. An increase in the prevalence of constipation in pregnant women is thought to occur due to hormones that relax the intestinal muscle and by pressure caused by the expanding uterus on the intestines. Relaxation of the intestinal muscle causes 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 doctor first.

How can I prevent or treat constipation during pregnancy?

Prevention and treatment of constipation involve much of the same thing. 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 breads, prunes and bran.
  • Drink a lot of fluids: Drinking plenty of fluids is important, particularly with your increase of 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.
  • 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.
  • Over-the-counter remedies: There are over-the-counter products such as Colace or Metamucil which may help soften your bowel movements and reduce your instances of constipation.
  • Reduce or eliminate iron supplements: Iron supplements may contribute to constipation when the dose is over 30 mg a day. Good nutrition often meets your iron needs altogether. Taking smaller doses of iron over time versus taking it all at once can ease the load of extra iron on your body. Talk to your physician about checking your iron levels and what to do with your iron intake.

What remedies should not be used for constipation during pregnancy?

Laxative pills are NOT recommended for the treatment of constipation during pregnancy because there is a possibility that they could stimulate uterine contractions.

Mineral oils should NOT be used during pregnancy because there is a high reduction in nutrient absorption.

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