Constipation is a common pregnancy complaint. About half of pregnant women will experience abdominal pain, infrequent bowel movements and hard stools that are difficult to pass at one point during their pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
So, what’s to blame? You can thank those pesky pregnancy hormones for chronic constipation, which can start as early as 8 weeks into your pregnancy.
“Hormone changes cause muscle relaxation and can slow down the rate of food passing through the gastrointestinal tract, making it difficult to have a bowel movement,” said Dr. Stephen Bacak, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Center. “Also, as the baby grows, it puts pressure on the intestines, which may make it harder to process nutrients.”
What’s more, the iron-packed prenatal vitamins you’re taking daily can make constipation here to stay.
The problem is chronic constipation and continued straining can lead to hemorrhoids. These dilated blood vessels around the anus can itch, burn and even bleed.
That’s why it’s important for women to keep their constipation in check.
Dr. Bacak offers these 5 foolproof remedies to get things moving smoothly once again.
Eat more grains and fiber.
Fiber is your best friend. It holds on to water, which makes your stool softer and easier to pass through the intestines.
It’s a good idea for pregnant women to eat about 25-35 grams of fiber each day to stay regular. Good sources of fiber include whole-grain breads and pasta, bran cereals, vegetables, fruits, lentils, peas and beans.
“In general, people don’t consume enough fiber,” said Dr. Bacak. “And when you’re pregnant, it’s even more important to eat a well-balanced diet not only to help with constipation, but to get enough vitamins and antioxidants in your diet.”
Drink plenty of fluids.
Pregnant women should strive to drink about 2-3 quarts, or 8-12 glasses, of water daily to stay hydrated and help soften stools.
The good news is herbal or fruit teas, citrus-infused water and other non-caffeinated beverages, as well as low-sodium broths, count toward your daily goal of water intake.
“Fruit-flavored drinks aren’t generally recommended because they can be high in sugar,” said Dr. Bacak. “However, 100% fruit juice in moderation offers a good source of hydration, as well as important vitamins and minerals.”
Regular exercise stimulates the bowels and keeps things moving.
Dr. Bacak recommends pregnant women exercise about 5-7 times a week for about 20 to 30 minutes each. Low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming and yoga are great options.
“Also, people who are active are more aware of their hydration and tend to drink more water,” he said.
Reduce iron supplements, if possible, until symptoms resolve
Iron is a vital prenatal supplement because it’s essential for red blood cell production for you and your developing baby. But even though iron can do a pregnant body good, it can also exacerbate constipation.
“Iron is tricky because many women are iron-deficient, but it can cause constipation,” said Dr. Bacak. “So, if you need to stay on your iron supplements, a stool softener may help to ease your constipation.”
Try stool softeners
If all of these natural options have failed, your doctor may recommend a stool softener. They moisten the bowels so stools are easier to pass. Metamucil and Colace are good options and safe for pregnant or nursing women.
“It’s rare women will need a true laxative,” said Dr. Bacak. “We tend to stay away from them because they can cause dehydration and stimulate contractions.”