If you find yourself suffering from constipation during pregnancy, you’re not alone. Depending on the sources, statistics range from between 38% to 50% of all women that are pregnant, who experience constipation during some stage of their pregnancy.
Bloating and pain are frequently a result of constipation during pregnancy, and it’s even been recognised as a reason of pre term labour.
Pregnancy can predispose you to constipation
During pregnancy your body is busy working on supplying nutrients to your growing baby. Of course there are many changes that happen to help this occur. Pregnancy essentially pre-disposes you to developing constipation. This occurs because of anatomic and physiological changes, which take place in the gastrointestinal tract.
(The gastrointestinal tract is featured in the photo on the right, courtesy of https://www.le.ac.uk/pa/teach/va/anatomy/case6/frmst6.html which also explains its function.)
Progesterone levels rise during pregnancy and motilin hormone levels are reduced. These lead to the bowel transit time being increased. Additionally there is an increase in the water which is absorbed from the intestines. This means that stools tend to dry out more.
Decreased physical activity during pregnancy can also play a part in contributing to constipation, as can the intake of vitamins, in particular calcium and iron. However this shouldn’t tempt you to reduce vitamin intake, as a correct, balanced pregnancy nutrition diet is essential. Later on in your pregnancy, an enlarging uterus may also slow down the onward movement of feces.
Your body also absorbs more water
Pregnancy and constipation may also occur since your body absorbs more water. This happens so that the blood circulation of your developing fetus can be increased. This water is actually led away from the bowel, leading to harder, drier bowel movements and this could cause constipation during pregnancy. Also as food is staying in your digestive system longer, it can soak up more water than usual. Almost all pre-natal supplements include additional iron, which is another source of constipation.
What can you do?
If you’ve already been experiencing constipation, no doubt you’re wondering what can you do to ease this uncomfortable issue.
The ideal solutions
Many women find relief from constipation by increasing their fluid and dietary intake, along with some suitable daily exercise. Make sure to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water daily. Eating whole grains like brown rice can also help absorb the water in your system, along with eating other healthy fibres, such as green leafy vegetables.
Probiotics can also be effective. They encourage the production of healthy flora, that can lead to improved bowel function.
Other possible solutions – but only as a later choice and always check your choice with your medical team
Laxative use in pregnancy is really only a later choice, if all of the above doesn’t help. Currently there is not a sufficient body of research to confirm of their benefit and safety.
Bulk-forming agents are considered safe to use in pregnancy. However they can cause cramping, bloating and gas as side effects. Additionally they are not effective all of the time.
A number of stool softeners such as docusate sodium have been tested and are generally considered safe to use in pregnancy. However during these studies there was a case of chronic use which resulted in symptomatic hypo-magnesemia.
Lubricant laxatives, such as mineral oil, have been surrounded by some controversy. This is because they may reduce the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. They have not been associated with other more serious effects, but before considering using them consult your doctor.
Osmotic laxatives such as lactulose and polyethylene glycol may cause bloating and flatulence, and long term use can lead to electrolyte imbalances. They have not been associated with other more serious effects, but before considering using them consult your doctor.
Stimulant laxatives such as bisacodyl or senna are not considered to have serious effects either. However they can cause unpleasant side effects, for example abdominal cramps. Also like osmotic laxatives long term use can result in electrolyte imbalances.
Our research for the above was taken from the following constipation in pregnancy study. Please ensure you read it in detail and consult your medical team before making any choices regarding medication.
All articles on the blog and website are intended as information only. Please do not consider any of the information provided here as a substitute for medical advice. At all times seek medical advice directly with your own doctor and medical team.