Constipation is a common symptom during pregnancy, but this doesn’t mean that every pregnant woman will suffer from constipation. So, if you are pregnant and suffering from constipation, here’s a quick guide with tips to help control the condition.
Before you dive in, it’s important to recognize the causes of constipation during pregnancy and the role of your diet. More importantly, you should know when to consult a doctor to prevent complications. Dr. Y S Nandanwar, HOD Gynaecology, Sion Hospital, Mumbai explains in detail about constipation during pregnancy and shares some tips to handle the condition.
What causes constipation in pregnancy?
Genes do not put you at risk of constipation when pregnant. However, if anyone in your family suffers from the condition or if you have a history of constipation, you are more likely to experience the same because you tend to follow the same dietary pattern.
There are numerous causes of constipation during pregnancy right from eating a diet low in fiber to drinking less water and the use of certain medications. In addition, here are some of the common causes of constipation in pregnant women.
Hormone progesterone: The levels of the hormone progesterone are elevated during pregnancy. This is because the hormone is secreted by the placenta to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Due to high levels of progesterone, the muscles of the digestive tract relax, which slows the emptying of the bowels and leads to constipation.
Iron supplements: Most pregnant women are advised to take iron supplements to ensure healthy fetal development and because our diets are often deficient in iron. Unfortunately, constipation is one of the common side-effects of iron supplementation. Hence, pregnant women who are on iron supplements are at a high risk of suffering from constipation and other gastrointestinal problems.
Delayed evacuation of the bowels: Suppressing the urge to evacuate the bowels can disturb your body’s natural mechanism. So, the next time you have an urge to pass a stool, it could require physical exertion. Over time, this pattern of irregular bowel movements can give rise to constipation.
Dehydration: During pregnancy, your body needs a higher intake of water for formation of the placenta and amniotic sac. As a result, if a pregnant woman fails to stay hydrated, there is a high risk of dehydration, which can cause hardening of the stools and constipation.
Does constipation have any effect on the baby?
Constipation does not have any effect on the baby. But chronic constipation can pull the uterus down, which might lead to complications if left untreated.
If you take purgative drugs or laxatives (medicines that help to empty the bowel) they could trigger uterine contractions, which in severe cases can cause an abortion. The use of over the counter constipation medications can also lead to side-effects such as abdominal pain. Hence, it is important to consult the right doctor and take the right medicines to treat constipation during pregnancy.
When to consult a doctor for constipation?
Constipation is a minor problem but if not treated on time, it can cause numerous health complications such as intra-abdominal pressure, fissures or piles. So, if you suffer from constipation or have difficulty passing stools, it is advisable to inform your doctor during your antenatal checkup. You should consult a doctor for constipation if you experience any of the following signs:
-Not being able to pass stools every day
-Feeling uneasy or abdominal discomfort
-Experiencing colic-like pain
Is it safe to take laxatives for constipation during pregnancy?
Laxatives are commonly used to treat constipation, but not all of these medications are safe or effective during pregnancy. Hence, it is important to consult your doctor before you take any medication for constipation. Some of the OTC medications that are considered safe for pregnancy include:
Psyllium husk (isabgol): This is a fiber supplement. Isabgol is a bulk-forming laxative that draws water into the stools, softens the stools and makes it easier to pass stools.
Lactulose/cellulose: This is another medication that contains fiber, which helps in the emptying of the bowels and relieves constipation. This medicine is regarded as safe to use during pregnancy.
Tips to handle constipation during pregnancy
You can ease and prevent constipation during pregnancy by following some simple tips. These include:
Eat fiber-rich foods: Ensure that you include foods rich in fiber such as whole grains, cereals, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat leafy vegetables like spinach and methi, which are loaded with fiber and other healthy nutrients.
Avoid foods that trigger constipation: Foods such as maida, sago and even eggs are known to cause constipation. It would be best to restrict the intake of these foods during pregnancy.
Include seasonal fruits in diet: Instead of fruit juices, it is wise to eat whole fruits and seasonal produce as these are a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals needed for the body.
Do not avoid iron supplements: Although iron supplements can cause constipation, the mineral is needed for fetal development. Hence, talk to your doctor about a change in the medicine or dosage. For example, ferrous sulphate, which is usually prescribed, can be replaced with ferrous sorbitrate, which is less likely to produce side-effects.
Use laxatives prescribed by a doctor: Talk to your doctor about the use of laxatives during pregnancy. Depending upon the severity and type of laxatives you might need, you can either opt for a liquid-based medicine or a powder form of the drug. These medicines can dissolve in the stomach and help to empty the bowels.
Drink adequate fluids: It is recommended that pregnant women with a BMI of around 25 should drink at least 3.5 – 4 liters of fluids every day. This can include water, soups, juices, and coconut water. Do ensure that you stay hydrated to prevent constipation.
Exercise regularly: If you have been exercising daily, then it is important to stay physically active even during pregnancy, as this can help fight constipation and improve bowel movements. However, women who did not exercise prior to the pregnancy should not start exercising or try any new form of exercise during the pregnancy.
Bottom line: Constipation during pregnancy can be unpleasant but making a few changes to your lifestyle can help you to prevent and treat the condition at home. Eating on a regular basis, including fiber-rich foods, staying hydrated and exercising can help to regularize bowel movements during pregnancy. However, if you find it difficult to pass stools, then talk to your doctor immediately to prevent any health complications.