Pregnancy is undoubtedly the most beautiful and unforgettable phase in a women’s life, but it comes with its own set of physical changes and discomforts. While most pregnant women discuss morning sickness and fatigue openly, many choose not to talk about constipation out of embarrassment or some other reason.
Constipation is a common symptom of pregnancy, and over 50% of women suffer from it at some point in pregnancy. Let’s attempt to understand the causes and symptoms of this tricky yet common pregnancy problem and learn what you can do to relieve and prevent the discomfort.
What is Constipation?
You’re suffering from constipation if the bowel movement has become challenging and if you notice a remarkable gap between the intervals of passing stools. Constipation occurs when digested food stays in the colon for too long and absorbs too much water, making your stool dry and hard — and difficult for your rectal muscles to push out of your stomach. Even though bowel habits vary among pregnant women, you should be concerned if you have less than three bowel movements per week.
When Does Constipation Start During Pregnancy?
Constipation tends to start around the second or third month of pregnancy when progesterone levels rise. It may get worse as your uterus grows and sticks around until the baby makes an appearance.
Symptoms of Constipation During Pregnancy
Constipation can cause you several physical discomforts, so it’s essential to recognize the symptoms:
Hard, painful stools that take longer than usual to pass and put a great deal of strain on your rectal muscles, leading to bleeding and hemorrhoids.
#Infrequent Bowel Movements
If you suddenly notice a decrease in the number of daily bowel movements to once every other day, then you might be suffering from constipation.
#Loss of Appetite
You may experience a loss of appetite due to bloating and gas. Since you’re not able to pass stool, you’ll eventually have no desire to eat.
You might experience a feeling of rectal pressure or fullness – a sensation that you need to have a bowel movement even after you pass stool.
Constipation causes gas and bloating, which may sometimes lead to stomach and chest pain. However, most of the time, you can relieve the pain with a burp or passing gas.
If constipation persists, you may experience lower abdominal cramping when you’re passing stool. If you don’t pass any stool, there may be bloating in your lower abdominal region.
Causes of Constipation During Pregnancy
The cause of constipation depends largely on the stage of pregnancy you’re in. Possible causes include:
#Changes in Hormones
A surge in progesterone hormone production relaxes the digestive tract muscles, causing waste to pass through the colon more slowly. The slow movement of stool increases the amount of water absorbed by the colon, making it more difficult and solid to pass.
If you’re taking prenatal vitamins, you’re more likely to catch constipation. Prenatal vitamins contain a high amount of iron that can cause constipation and hard, black stools.
#Pressure from the Uterus
In the later stages of pregnancy, the rapidly growing uterus can pressure the bowel, making it difficult for stool to pass through the intestines.
Certain foods and beverages, like cruciferous vegetables, red meat, milk, and dairy products such as cheese and ice-cream, can cause constipation.
#Less Physical Activity
If you’re not physically active or doing pregnancy-friendly exercises, you could be prone to constipation. This is because physical activity helps the waste move through the large intestine quickly. Doing exercise every day helps reduce the amount of water absorbed by the colon, which eventually prevents stools from getting hard and difficult to pass.
Taking too much stress can affect your digestion and even overall health. When you are overly stressed, your body is likely to trigger constipation over time.
#Changes in Diet
Any change in your pregnancy diet towards growing the fetus can cause constipation.
Tips to Prevent or Treat Constipation
You can take the following measures to treat or prevent constipation during pregnancy:
- Take lots of fluid
- Break your meals into 5-6 mini-meals
- Exercise regularly
- Relax your pelvic floor muscles before you sit on the toilet
- Eating more fibrous foods and take fiber supplements
- Resist refined grains
- Reduce the intake of iron supplements
- Use a squat toilet
When to See a Doctor?
Speaking to your doctor is advisable if you experience the following symptoms to avoid pregnancy complications:
- Stomach pain
- Bleeding from the rectum
- No relief after using a laxative
- Constipation lasting for longer than 1–2 weeks
Mention any other symptoms to the doctor for more specific advice and treatment.