Constipation during and after pregnancy – what you should know

Pregnancy is a happy, but challenging time with some discomfort during the journey. Constipation is one of those unpleasant side-effects, with up to half of all pregnant women suffering from constipation at some stage during their pregnancy.

What causes pregnancy constipation?

There are a couple of possible culprits that cause constipation in general – this includes a diet lacking in fibre, not enough water or not enough exercise. Constipation can also be part of other digestive conditions such as IBS.

During pregnancy, hormones fluctuate and can cause the relaxation of intestinal muscles. It’s especially the increase in the levels of progesterone in your body that relaxes all the “smooth” muscles in the body. This causes your digestive system to slow down, causing waste to move more slowly than usual.

Taking iron tablets to avoid iron-deficiency anaemia during pregnancy can also cause constipation, especially high doses.

In the later stages of pregnancy, the pressure of the growing uterus on your rectum can also be responsible for constipation.

Should I be concerned about constipation during pregnancy?

The physical changes in your body during pregnancy will normally cause constipation, which is nothing to worry about. But sometimes constipation can signal other health problems. If you ever experience constipation along with severe abdominal cramps, bleeding in your stool or alternating diarrhoea, you should contact your doctor.

If you leave constipation untreated and it lasts longer than two weeks, it could lead to other complications such as haemorrhoids.

And postpartum constipation?   

Constipation does not only occur during pregnancy, but can continue after giving birth. There are several reasons for this:

  • You still have high progesterone levels in your body and this might take a while to normalise. 
  • You might have after-effects from the anaesthetic following a Caesarean.
  • You might have tearing near the rectal area, which makes bowel movements uncomfortable.
  • You might have given birth to a large baby.
  • You might have had damage to the pelvic floor muscles, which makes it harder to pass stools.

What you can do to relieve constipation

These are the steps you can take to help relieve constipation during and after pregnancy:

  • A diet consisting of plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and legumes will not only add plenty of antioxidants to your diet to ensure a healthy pregnancy, but you will also get your daily intake of fibre that may help relieve constipation.
  • Get regular exercise to help things moving along. If you are not sure if you should continue your pre-pregnancy workout regime, talk to your doctor to ensure a safe workout.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals as larger meals might overload your stomach and slow down digestion even more.
  • Talk to your doctor about the use of a pregnancy-safe laxative to help things along.
  • If you are taking an iron supplement, ensure that you are taking the correct dose as too much iron may cause more severe constipation.

Image credit: iStock

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