Constipation in pregnancy

In the period of pregnancy it is more than normal to have moments of constipation. If it happens to you too, you should not feel isolated, indeed you should know that, according to statistics, it is so widespread that it affects almost one pregnant woman out of two.

Why is it so common in pregnancy to go through one or more stages of constipation? The answer is not univocal, because there are several competing factors to cause it.

The first factor responsible for constipation is the “usual” increase in progesterone, a steroid hormone which, among other things, has a muscle relaxant effect on muscles throughout the body, including those of the digestive tract (thanks to progesterone, which reduces the intensity of peristaltic contractions, food passes through the intestine more slowly. This slowness also increases the time in which the ingested nutrients remain in contact with the intestine, and consequently, reach your baby). In the first weeks of pregnancy – to the high levels of progesterone in the blood – there are also frequent nausea that discourage the future mother to drink liquids, which only increases the risk of constipation.

The second factor to take into account is that (obviously) with the passing of weeks and then months, during pregnancy the uterus tends to enlarge going to occupy part of the space where the intestine is normally located, thus stealing a “land” part to work.

Finally, the last and third factor, which intervenes in the last part of pregnancy is the increase in circulating levels of aldosterone (a steroid hormone) which can also represent a precious ally of constipation.

So will you have to resign yourself to future months of constipation and, perhaps, even to the formation of annoying hemorrhoids? Absolutely not! There are many small precautions and “tricks” that you could adopt to live better without incurring unnecessary risks, for you but also for the fetus. Here are some of them.

  • Eat lots of fiber-rich foods. That’s what your body needs. It needs whole grains, legumes (especially peas and beans), fresh fruits and vegetables (it would be advisable to eat them raw or undercooked and preferably without removing the peel) and dried fruit. Did you know that kiwi and all green vegetables work like powerful laxatives? Forget about synthetic pills: everything your body needs already exists in nature, you just need to know where and when to collect it (or buy it!). Your goal should be to eat between 25 and 35 grams of fiber per day, and while you’re at it, try to avoid grains that are too refined: white bread, white rice, refined cereals and pasta. Finally, a little advice: if you are not used to eating fiber, slowly start introducing them into your diet and do not overdo it if – for example – you go from 0 g / day to 35 g / day, you could then suffer from gas and bloating. Give your body the chance to get used to these “new friends”, and you will see that soon you will not be able to do without them.
  • Avoid large meals. Do not overdo it at the table because a large meal can strain the digestive system and hinder normal bowel movements. Rather than three large meals a day, many specialists recommend making six mini snacks.
  • Drink a lot. To promote bowel movements and to produce soft stools, it is useful to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. This is a trick not to be underestimated: it is essential. If you find yourself in a really difficult time with constipation, you can try drinking some water and prune juice that helps stimulate peristalsis (contractions of the digestive tract).
  • Be regular in your habits. The human body has a great need for regularity, and it does not like it when habits change suddenly. If you have become accustomed to going to the bathroom every morning at a certain time, try to keep this habit unchanged. If, for example, you know you have to be at work at nine o’clock then I advise you to eat your fiber and drink your prune juice at least an hour before going to the bathroom do not postpone.
  • Don’t sit too much. Exercise, obviously of a light type, during pregnancy promotes regular bowel movements. Even just ten minutes of daily walking will make you feel more comfortable with your body. Some doctors recommend doing it early in the morning, immediately after waking up, perhaps munching on dried fruit such as raisins, almonds and walnuts to fill up on energy.
  • Saline supplements and antacids are maintained. If your doctor has advised you to take those for calcium and iron, take them, even though they can aggravate constipation. The same goes for antacids. If you feel that your constipation situation is in an acute phase it is best to consult (again) with your doctor to find out if you can “adjust” the doses of these products or if you are allowed to take a slow-release iron supplement.
  • For the same reason mentioned above do not give up the vitamin supplements that your doctor has recommended to you. Although these may make it more difficult to “go out of body”, you should not give them up since they are good for both you and the unborn child.
  • Rely on good bacteria. The probiotic acidophilus – which is typically found in active-culture yogurt – stimulates gut bacteria by helping the digestive system in its efforts to keep things moving.
  • Take some relaxing time with aromatherapy. Add three or four drops of oils (especially citrus oils such as sweet orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit or bergamot) to your bath and forget all the daily labors. Relax in hot water for about ten minutes and, if you like, gently massage your belly clockwise. You will see, this activity is a real healthy touch for you and the baby.
  • Don’t be seduced by ads about laxatives. Commercials, on TV or in magazines, make everything seem easier and faster, but not all advertised products are suitable for pregnancy, especially herbal or homemade ones! Before taking them, ask your doctor for advice.
  • Use an anti-nausea bracelet. Nausea does not encourage you to drink a lot of fluids, it helps to hinder the passage of stool.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform, Maternicity.com.

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