Pregnancy is tough. You’re exhausted, bloated, nauseous, broken out, and your feet and ankles are so swollen that they look like a hot water bottle with toes. As if creating life wasn’t enough of a challenge, over half of pregnant women must also contend with a backed up bowel. Constipation is likely to strike during the first and third trimesters, and it can last for weeks if you’re not proactive.
A lot of strategies to support gut health are tricky, but fortunately for you, constipation during pregnancy doesn’t have to be one of them. But before we get to the fix, let’s first tackle why you can’t go in the first place.
Causes of Constipation During Pregnancy
Shifts in Hormones
During the first trimester, the hormonal changes in your body produce noticeable effects. Higher levels of one particular hormone, progesterone, cause your involuntary muscles to relax. These smooth muscles envelop your digestive organs and push food through your system on schedule.
But the trouble begins when the muscles surrounding your intestines become a little too relaxed. Instead of pushing things along as they should, they let digested food sit. As progesterone increases, your levels of motilin decrease. Motilin is the hormone that tells your involuntary muscles to contract. Low levels increase the time that digested food spends languishing in your intestines.
Increased estrogen may be another influence on your experience in the bathroom. This hormone also slows contractions in the muscles of the gut.
Increased Water Needs
Water is essential to healthy fetal development. It not only helps your blood carry nutrients to both you and your baby, but it also helps remove waste products from the two of you, as well. Your blood volume increases by 50% over the course of pregnancy, so you have to steadily boost your water intake as your pregnancy progresses. But even though you’re drinking so much water that you need to urinate every half hour, you might still be dehydrated. How can you still be short on water?
Due to the growing need for water during pregnancy, your intestines may pull more water out of the digestive tract than they did before you were pregnant. This leaves you with stool that’s difficult to pass under normal circumstances, but even worse when your intestines are on vacation.
During the later stages of pregnancy, your baby bump doesn’t just get in the way of the steering wheel. A growing baby can also put pressure on your colon, preventing it from doing its business. As your pregnancy progresses, your organs shift around to make room for your baby. Most of your vital organs compress upward toward the ribs, while your baby occupies the abdominal area. For some moms-to-be, this leads to third-trimester constipation.
Ultimately, it could be that your prenatal vitamin regimen is leaving you in a bind. Most doctors prescribe a prenatal vitamin to ensure that both mom and baby are getting enough of the essential nutrients they need. It’s important to take these as directed so that your baby develops normally. Many expecting mothers also take an iron supplement to support their body’s increased need and production of blood. Unfortunately, many iron supplements can lead dysbiosis and slow intestinal emptying. If you’re not taking a gentle, plant-based option, it could be the cause of the blockage. Speak with your doctor about switching to Iron. It’s an all-natural, plant-based iron supplement that’s formulated with whole organic foods like curry leaves, echinacea, and thyme. Since plants naturally contain fiber, Iron won’t leave you high and dry unlike mineral- and animal-based iron supplements.
Foods That Cause Constipation
You may be eating foods that can cause constipation. Fast food, refined sugar, and meat leave you backed up because these foods provide very little fiber. Some unexpected dietary causes of constipation include chocolate, unripe bananas, and caffeine. Evaluate your diet to see if you're eating these culprits and replace them with whole, high-fiber options like berries or oatmeal.
Solutions for Constipation During Pregnancy
With precious cargo onboard, most doctors advise natural, nontoxic solutions to get things moving again. But that doesn’t mean spending more time on the toilet trying to move the immovable. Straining on the toilet can lead to hemorrhoids or even anal fissures. You don’t want to push, but you can make things a little easier on your colon by trying a few of the tips listed below.
Eat More Vegetables
Whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and seeds all contain fiber which helps bulk up your stool to make it easier to push through. Many foods have a natural laxative effect. Beans are an excellent option, but if your stomach is iffy with legumes, I recommend adding chia and flax seeds to your diet. They naturally absorb water, forming a gel-like layer around the seeds so that they can add some much-needed moisture to your stool.
Throw two or three tablespoons of chia or flax into your morning oatmeal. Use them to add a little more texture to your salads. You can even soak chia seeds overnight in juice. If you’re feeling adventurous, put three tablespoons of chia seeds in a shaker bottle with a few ounces of prune juice and fill the rest of the bottle with water. Leave it in the refrigerator overnight, and in the morning you’ll have a fiber-filled snack that’ll help you go. Just make sure to give it a good shake to separate the seeds.
Go for a Walk
While getting around requires some logistical planning for many women close to term, a little exercise can work wonders. Many doctors recommend low-impact exercise like swimming, going for a short walk, or light stretching. Even pacing around the house can help your bowels unload their cargo. Talk to your doctor about other ways to be more active.
Drink More Water
When trying to calculate your water needs, you’re going to need to do a little math. Divide your body weight in half and add 40 to calculate the number of ounces of water you need to drink when you are pregnant. So if you’re 150 pounds and pregnant, you need to drink about 115 ounces of water a day when you’re close to term. That’s just shy of a gallon, but don’t fret if that sounds like an overwhelming amount of water. There’s no need to flood your system with that much water if you just found out you’re pregnant. You have months to work up to that amount as your baby grows.
Moving Onward and Outward
These tips should help you propel things forward, but if you still find yourself unable to find relief in the privy, consider chiropractic. It's invaluable for improving a wide range of physical ailments. Additionally, you can also try some of these laxative foods. Always check with your doctor or midwife before making any significant changes to your diet or routine.
- Verghese, T., Futaba, K., and Latthe, P. "Constipation During Pregnancy." TOG Obsattrician and Gynaecologist Mar 2015.
- Trottier, Magan, Aida Erebara, and Pina Bozzo. "Treating constipation during pregnancy." Canadian Family Physician 58.8 (2012): 836–838. Web.
- Oh, Ji-Eun., et al. "Estrogen Rather Than Progesterone Cause Constipation in Both Female and Male Mice." The Korean Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology : Official Journal of the Korean Physiological Society and the Korean Society of Pharmacology 17.5 (2013): 423–426. PMC. Web. 13 July 2017.
- Soma-Pillay, Priya., et al. "Physiological Changes in Pregnancy". Cardiovascular Journal of Africa 27.2 (2016): 89–94. PMC. Web. 13 July 2017.
- Arnaud, M.J. "Mild Dehydration: A risk for constipation?" Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Dec;57 Suppl 2:S88-95.
- "How to calculate how much water you should drink." Let's Talk Total Rewards. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 July 2017.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.