Constipation is a common complaint in pregnancy. This is caused because hormone changes decrease mobility in the intestines creating sluggish bowels. As fecal matter slows its path, additional water is reabsorbed leading to hard, dry stools. As the baby grows, mobility is further impeded by space constraints on the intestines. If you are going through this, you have discovered that constipation can be a very significant discomfort during pregnancy. I am hopeful that this discussion on constipation and pregnancy brings great relief!
Tips for effective bowel movements
- Do not ignore urges to have a bowl movement if at all possible. Sometimes these urges are fleeting and one must use the restroom as soon as the urge is felt. Bowel movements come considerably easier in these moments.
- If your job prevents you from spontaneously following urges, try to create two regular times each day when you set aside time to relax on the commode and allow a bowel movement to happen.
Changing position can change the way the uterus is compressing the intestines. Most people find that elevating the feet or legs and having some entertaining reading material foster relaxation of the bowels. Alternatively sitting up straight and elongating your spine can help. There are also seats, or rather foot stools (Squatty Potty website or on Amazon), that promote a natural squatting position to facilitate easier elimination.
- Try to avoid straining. Strain increases the pressure on your pelvic floor and muscular sphincters, putting a high demand on these muscles and increasing the risk of hemorrhoids and stress incontinence. Instead, take your time achieving a bowel movement. Breath deeply into the pelvis. Breathing deeply in this sense does not mean forcing in more air, but consciously pulling the air of a natural breath deep into the pelvis. You can practice this while standing. Place your hands over the groin area and think about expanding the pelvis with your breath. Exhale all of your air and then breath in using only your diaphragm, not your shoulders or chest muscles. You will feel a very subtle lift under your hands, and a sense of the pelvis expanding. Another way to think about this type of breath is to imagine your pubic bone and tailbone drifting away from each other on the in breath. The sit bones that you feel when sitting on a hard chair can also be visualized moving apart. Put together I think of these 4 anatomical marks as the points of a diamond, and allow the diamond to expand in all directions with each breath in. This breath, when used on the commode, will encourage bowel movements with ease and patience. When you feel a natural urge, it is fine to add a small effort to the push. Incidentally, this is great practice for a gentle pushing stage during labor and birth, and a very calming breath often taught for stress relief and deep relaxation.
Constipation and Pregnancy Nutrition
- To prevent or treat constipation eat lots of roughage, dark leafy greens are best. A variety of other colored fruits and vegetables in as fresh a state as possible are also great. Wash vegetables and leave the skin on whenever possible.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine.
- Increase fiber and whole grains.
- Other foods that may be particularly helpful are mashed potatoes with the skin left on, bran, and oatmeal. Bran can easily be added to cereal, soups, salads, and yogurt.
- Healthful use of herbal teas can be an extremely effective management for constipation and pregnancy. The key is in drinking the tea regularly. I recommend a brew of red raspberry leaf and nettles as explained in this article on pregnancy and herbal tea.
- Take 3 teaspoons of whole flax seed soaked in a few t of boiling water.
- Liquid Chlorophyll or alfalfa pills
- Drink ½ a cup of aloe vera juice daily. Mix with sparkling water if you don’t like it alone.
- Remember that iron supplements may cause constipation. If your constipation worsened after beginning iron supplements discuss as alternative supplement or natural supplementation with your care provider. Floridix is an iron supplement that has helped many women manage constipation and pregnancy when iron supplementation is needed.
- Magnesium. A powdered magnesium supplement can be useful. Start with a small amount, and increase until softer stools are achieved, within the limitations recommended by your health care provider.
- Walk at least a mile a day. Swimming is also a great exercise for moving the bowels.
For best results managing constipation in pregnancy, combine many of the above suggestions. A pregnancy free from constipation not only makes bowel movements easier, it also tends to increase your energy and decrease bloating. New dietary and exercise habits such as increasing vegetables and water intake, or brewing your own teas may sound daunting, but you can do it! Just take it one step at a time, beginning with pregnancy meal planning (add tea right into your plans!). Add a small but significant increase to your exercise, such as a short after dinner walk or taking the parking spaces at the outer edge of all parking lots. You will soon be on your way to a much more joyful – or at least physically more pleasant – pregnancy. Constipation and pregnancy can become a thing of the past, and you will be learning invaluable life skills in the process.