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It’s normal for your system to seem a little off during pregnancy, and about half of all moms-to-be complain of constipation at some point. You might be wondering what might be causing this very common, yet annoying, symptom. Usually a few different factors are at work.

Higher progesterone levels slow down the rate at which contents move through the digestive tract. Secondly, the extra pressure on your intestines from your growing uterus can also be a factor and make constipation more likely. Lastly, supplemental iron—either from prenatal vitamins or as an additional supplement for anemic women—can also raise the risk of constipation. Fortunately, there are many things that can help.

First, you should consider whether you actually have a problem. Many people assume that not having a daily bowel movement means they’re constipated, but that’s not true. If you’re moving your bowels at least three times a week and the stools aren’t painful or difficult to pass, there is no need to intervene. But if you’re going less frequently and/or are physically uncomfortable, then it’s time to get help.

Before you reach for any medications, try making some simple lifestyle changes. Are you eating enough fiber? You should aim for 25-30 grams per day. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits (yes, including prunes) are all good sources. Water is very important, too, as it fends off dehydration. Many women wonder exactly how much they should drink, and there is no magic number to fixate on. Drink enough so that your urine is pale yellow, which indicates you are perfectly hydrated.

Regular exercise is also very helpful in resolving this problem, and it’s advisable for most pregnant women to remain active. Be sure to discuss any concerns about your activity level with your doctor before you begin, especially if you have a high-risk pregnancy. Physical activity can help by stimulating the intestines and help keep you regular.

If diet and exercise don’t make a difference (or you’re just too uncomfortable and require a quicker remedy), you can give a stool softener a try. Docusate (Colace) is one such stool softener that is over-the-counter and safe to take in pregnancy. Your body will not become dependent on it to have a bowel movement (unlike certain stimulants), so this is a nice one to try first.

If you find you are still struggling, be sure to check in with your doctor or midwife. He or she may suggest an additional medication or want to examine you to make sure something else isn’t going on.

Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, November 2018

Takeaways

  • Constipation is very common during pregnancy.
  • Hormonal changes, increased uterine size, and iron supplements may contribute to the problem.
  • Drinking more fluids and eating more fiber should help.
  • If dietary changes aren’t enough, you may need a stool softener.

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References

  1. American Pregnancy Association. Pregnancy and Constipation.
  2. Drugs.com. Laxatives.
  3. Mayo Clinic. Pregnancy Constipation: Are Stool Softeners Safe?
  4. MedlinePlus. Constipation.

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