toilet roll with help written on it: causes and treatment of constipation during pregnancy

Burping, breaking wind and constipation are just a few of the ‘unmentionables’ pregnant women don’t like talking about. Seemingly a minor issue, they’re never-the-less problematic, not to mention embarrassing. What causes constipation during pregnancy? Hormones, pressure, nausea and the lack of exercise usually trigger these problems.

Causes of constipation during pregnancy

During pregnancy, progesterone tends to make the bowel sluggish. This delays the progress of food through the gut, maximising nutritional absorption. On the downside, this delay tends to make our bodies reabsorb water and dry-out stools, making them hard and difficult to pass.

Ongoing constipation often begins with bad bowel habits – like over-using laxatives, delaying the ‘call of nature’, not drinking enough water, a bland diet and not getting enough exercise.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with bloating, passing wind, constipation and diarrhoea is more common than we realise. This is mostly caused by today’s sedentary lifestyle, stress overloaded (no doubt exaggerated by Covid-19) and not eating enough raw fruit and vegetables.

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Medical problems like diabetes or an underactive thyroid gland and depression tend to exaggerate constipation. More serious conditions like a damaged spinal cord, multiple sclerosis and Lupus Sjögren’s can all cause chronic constipation. This means they won’t go away, and you’ll need to find ways to cope with this problem.

Chronic constipation is something you should talk to your doctor about because it could have more serious implications.

Supplementary Iron (folic acid) is prescribed during pregnancy and it should always be taken with a glass of water to prevent constipation. Molasses is a good substitute because it’s rich in iron and doesn’t aggravate existing constipation problems.

Other medications to avoid are codeine and calcium-based antacids. Some women have weird cravings during pregnancy called pica, and can end up nibbling on clay, chalk, laundry starch, toothpaste and even sand, which is not good for the gut.

Fruit can help if you’re constipated. Bananas, however, because they contain pectin, can either aggravate or relieve constipation.

Women confined to bedrest miss out on exercise. Fortunately, this is rare and most women can carry on with their regular exercise routine throughout pregnancy.

What happens when you’re constipated while pregnant?

Constipation can make you feel very uncomfortable – especially when your baby is taking up most of your tummy space. You could get haemorrhoids (piles) which are best dealt with by using creams like Preparation-H. Passing big, bulky stools could split or tear the anus and this is evident when fresh blood is seen after wiping.

Treating constipation during pregnancy

Treatment for constipation during pregnancy depends on the cause. In mild cases, a change of diet, exercise and increasing fluid intake solves the problem. A mild laxative such as milk of magnesia can help. Glycerine suppositories can help to soften hard-to-budge stools.

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Bowel-training means getting into the habit of emptying your bowel regularly – not necessarily daily, but at least 3 – 4 times a week.

A prescribed laxative should contain natural ingredients. Ask your pharmacist or doctor. Don’t self-medicate. Laxatives that contain fibre or softeners make stools easier to pass. Some laxatives draw water from the bowel or stimulates peristalsis. These are not recommended during pregnancy. It’s best to use herbal or natural laxatives – excluding Senna – during pregnancy.

Burgie Ireland from 4mom4ever.blogspot.com is a registered nurse and midwife, healthcare writer and blogger. 

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