Constipation is one of the most common pregnancy related complaints with 10-40% of pregnant women experiencing it to some degree. Whilst it’s more likely to be an inconvenience than a major health issue it can be easy for most women to manage with some dietary and lifestyle changes.
Some women are more likely to suffer from constipation than others, including women who are generally prone to constipation or with IBS, women who experience morning sickness (due to changes in eating habits), and women who don’t exercise.
Causes of constipation in pregnancy
When you fall pregnant your progesterone levels rise rapidly in order to maintain the pregnancy. These high levels of progesterone result in decreased peristalsis and bowel motility, making the transit time in the bowel longer contributing to your constipation.
Changes of diet
Often women find during the first trimester that morning sickness symptoms result in changes to what they feel like or can tolerate eating. These changes from your normal diet can also contribute to changes your digestion and bowel habits
Vitamins and supplements that contain iron can cause constipation.
Your baby grows it puts more pressure onto your colon and rectum making going to the toilet more difficult.
Treatments for constipation during pregnancy
An adequate intake of fibre is one of the best ways to avoid constipation. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in water and it bulks up the contents of your bowels which helps to speed up the transit time and prevent constipation. A balanced diet full of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds will ensure you have enough fibre in your diet. Try to avoid starchy foods such as potato, white rice and pasta. Instead substitute with brown rice, whole meal pasta and sweet potato. These will be gentler on your digestion and provide numerous other health benefits. In Chinese medicine, we love warm and cooked foods, so we always suggest steering away from too much cold raw salads. Instead eat more cooked foods as these can be easier for your gut to digest especially when pregnant. Try making your own soups, casseroles and stews.
These are a little super food which helps prevent constipation! They are pretty much tasteless so easy to take. You can buy chia seeds from a health food shop or the supermarket (usually in the health food section). You’ll see they are little balls but if you soak them in any liquid they will swell up to twelve times their size and form into a slippery gel, which can make bowel movements easier to pass. Chia seeds are high in fibre, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and are low in calories. They can be sprinkled onto your muesli or porridge in the mornings, added to smoothies, yoghurt or fruit salads or made into chia balls or slices.
Is also a great fibre supplement. Like chia seeds it is water soluble, helping to soften and moisten the digestive tract and ease bowel motions. You can also add this to your breakfast, smoothies and juice. Make sure you are also drinking at least 1.5L of water if taking pysllium husk so it doesn’t dry out in your gut.
Can also help with constipation by relaxing the bowel muscles and promoting peristalsis. Check with your care provider or pharmacist about which magnesium supplement is right for you.
Drink plenty of water
As this will help moisten your bowel and make it easier to pass stools. This is especially important as if you only increase fibre intake but not water intake you will make your constipation worse. If you are finding it difficult to drink water due to morning sickness you can also try herbal teas, such as mint or ginger, or soda water with fresh lemon if bubbles help to relieve your symptoms. It’s really important to remain hydrated to you need to find something which works for you.
As your pregnancy progresses and your baby grows the increased downward pressure on your pelvic area makes constipation more likely. Exercise can be a useful tool to promote bowel movements, walking, swimming, yoga and gentle light weights are all great options to keep your digestion moving and in check!
Many pregnancy supplements contain iron which can cause and worsen constipation in some women. Your iron levels are checked regularly through your pregnancy and everyone will have different requirements. Talk to your care provider or pharmacist about switching to a liquid or lesser dose of iron which may help to ease your symptoms.