Abdominal pain, hardened stools, bloated feeling. What could these symptoms be pointing to during pregnancy? It is constipation, which you too may have experienced. It could be an embarrassing and uncomfortable situation, and unfortunately, it happens to be the least discussed aspects of pregnancy.
Did you know? According to a study published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, every three out of four pregnant women experience constipation or some form of bowel disorders at least once during pregnancy. Therefore, it is important to understand about constipation and how to manage it during pregnancy. Here, MomJunction will explain that and more.
What Is Constipation?
Constipation is the infrequent or improper bowel movements, which are difficult to pass. It refers to the stool consistency rather than frequency (1).
The major function of the large intestine is to absorb water from its lining and push the bowel along the intestine up to the rectum (2). If there is any interruption in this process, the stool stays in the intestine longer, devoid of any fluid.
Some amount of water is needed for smooth bowel movement. When the stool lacks water, it will pain when passing the bowel, and could also cause tearing of the tissues and anal tenderness.
Causes Of Constipation During Pregnancy
While there are many factors responsible for constipation (diet, side effects of medications, heavy metal toxicity, hypothyroidism, and hormonal disorders), the reason why you are experiencing constipation during your pregnancy can be different.
- Production of progesterone hormone: Pregnancy hormones relax the bowels making them inactive, and so the food remains in the digestive tract for longer (3). The only positive here is that there is more time for nutrient absorption, allowing more nutrients to pass to the baby.
- Rectal pressure: With the advancing pregnancy, the uterus expands and takes up the extra space of the rectum, which comes under additional pressure (4). This leads to difficulty in passing stools.
- Intestinal pressure: The growing uterus increases the pressure on the intestines, thus causing difficulty in smooth bowel movements.
- Iron supplements: Prenatal nutrient supplements such as for iron also lead to irregular bowel movements (5).
- Less activity: Lack of exercises means the food does not pass through the digestive tract smoothly. Fatigue and mood swings can also lead to constipation (6).
- Low-fiber foods: Fiber aids in breaking down the food, helping it easily pass through the intestines. And, its absence leads to constipation (7).
- Emotions: Emotions affect your health during pregnancy, and too much anxiety and worry can cause constipation.
Can Constipation Be Serious During Pregnancy?
Constipation could sometimes indicate some other medical condition. Severe constipation associated with abdominal pain, discharge of blood or mucus, and straining during bowels, requires immediate doctor’s attention.
In severe cases, passing hard stools can cause hemorrhoids (swollen veins in the rectum) or aggravate the condition, leading to rectal bleeding. You should immediately see your doctor in such a situation (8).
Symptoms Of Constipation During Pregnancy:
Understanding the signs and symptoms will help you take timely action. During constipation, you will usually experience:
- A gap of one to two days between each bowel movement
- Hardened stools that are difficult to pass
- Lower abdominal pain while passing stools
- Abdominal bloating and a feeling of fullness
- Rectal bleeding
- Decreased appetite
- Bad breath
- In extreme conditions, constipation could also lead to difficulty in birthing
In some cases, these symptoms may be a result of other serious conditions such as parasites and intestinal inflammation.
If the symptoms are mild, then you can work to resolve them at home, before they become severe.
Natural Remedies To Relieve Constipation During Pregnancy:
You can try some natural remedies for easing the bowel movements, before you go for some medication.
- Lemon water: Squeeze half a lemon in a glass of lukewarm water and have this mixture every morning. This will help you have a smoother bowel movement.
- Watermelon: This fruit is full of water and eating a lot of it helps manage bowel movements well.
- Dry fruits: Eating dry fruits such as dates, raisins, and prunes helps treat constipation.
- Yogurt: Yogurt is rich in probiotic bacteria that stimulate digestion and prevent gastrointestinal disorders.
Treatment Or Prevention Of Constipation During Pregnancy:
Treatment and prevention almost involve the same measures. Given below are a few tips that can help.
- Consume a high-fiber diet: Try to include high-fiber foods such as whole grains, bread, brown rice, beans, fruits, and vegetables in your everyday diet (9). They add bulk to the stools and make them easier to pass.
- Take lots of fluids: Fluid intake is important when you increase the fiber intake. A combination of both will help in eliminating the waste. Drink about ten to 12 glasses of water every day. In addition, a glass of any fruit juice is also helpful.
- Exercise regularly: If you are active, constipation will not be a problem. Walking, swimming, riding a stationary bicycle, and yoga on a regular basis help the intestines and stimulate your bowel movements. Fix a routine by discussing it with your health care provider (10).
- Reduce the intake of iron supplements: If you have to take iron supplements, limit them to smaller doses. Of course, you should discuss it with your doctor to manage the dosage well.
- Pelvic floor relaxation: Whenever you have the urge to pee, make some time and sit on the toilet seat. Breathe in deeply and exhale such that the pelvic floor muscles are relaxed.
Squat toilets are the best as they lead to easier and faster bowel movements. Squatting prevents constipation and hemorrhoids. If you are using a western commode, try raising your feet up with the help of a footstool to help you remain in a squat position (11).
These may be the natural options that are quite easy to follow but seek medical help if they fail to work.
Medical Treatment for Constipation:
There are some over-the-counter medications your doctor is likely to prescribe when none of the natural ways works.
Stool softeners such as Colace (12) and Metamucil (category B) help ease the bowel movements and treat constipation (13). They should only be used for a short period as long-term usage can cause dehydration and affect the electrolyte balance in the body system.
What Should You Avoid?
- Mineral oils could be risky as they reduce the nutrient absorption.
- Laxative pills and castor oil should also be avoided as they can stimulate contractions and lead to dehydration.
Foods That Prevent Constipation:
We list a few foods that you should include in your everyday diet to get relief from constipation (14).
- Fresh fruits – Guava, oranges, grapes, grapefruits, and sweet lime
- Fresh vegetables such as cabbage, watercress, and celery
- Leafy vegetables including spinach, broccoli, lettuce, Chinese greens are good options
- Carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin
- Dried fruits and nuts including prunes, apricots, raisins, almonds, and brazil nuts
- Berries – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries
- Pulses – black gram, pigeon peas, chickpeas, and kidney beans
- Brown rice, lentils, pasta, wholegrain cereals, bread, and roti
- Unprocessed oats and bran
Note: Start any meal with raw fruit, vegetable, or salad
Complimentary Therapies That Can Work:
There are some complimentary therapies which you may try once you get the approval from your doctor. Moreover, you should choose an experienced and registered specialist to receive the therapy.
- Acupuncture or acupressure: Acupuncture helps relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is one of the causes of constipation. Both these therapies work on the theory based on pressure points which when stimulated can improve your health. However, you should consult a qualified practitioner (15).
- Aromatherapy: Some essential oils such as lemon, lime, sweet orange, bergamot, and grapefruit can be used for massaging lower abdomen gently. They can also be used in your bath. However, you should be careful if you are at a high risk of premature labor or placenta previa.
- Herbal remedies: Dandelion, chamomile, or mallow teas help ease constipation. Steep a few leaves in boiling water, and consume it every day.
Chamomile tea relaxes intestinal tract and overall well-being. You can drink up to two cups every day.
Psyllium Husk is available at most pharmacy stores and contains mucilage, which makes the stools soft and easier to pass. It is available with names such as Sat Isabgol, Softovac, etc.
Senna is another effective traditional remedy which can be taken if your doctor approves of it. (16). Avoid taking senna in the third trimester as it can cause false contractions (Braxton Hicks contractions).
Other therapies: Tai chi and Qi gong are ancient practices that help in maintaining physical and mental health and well-being. They also help with mobility and balance which may treat or prevent constipation. However, you should get a session with a qualified specialist (17) (18).
You can get relief from constipation easily. Have a diet rich in fiber, and avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Be active and do your daily chores as much as possible. Drink water and fruit juices, so that your body remains hydrated. Hope these tips will help you prevent constipation for the entire duration of your pregnancy.
Feel free to share any more suggestions on dealing with constipation.
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