Constipation is a commonly reported symptom in pregnancy. This is one of the most uncomfortable symptoms, especially if you were regular before you were pregnant. However, through making some simple nutritional changes to your diet, this issue can be resolved within a matter of days.
What causes constipation during pregnancy?
When you are pregnant, your progesterone levels rise rapidly which is important for the healthy development of the baby. Intestinal contractions are responsible for food and bodily waste to move through the gut but these high levels of progesterone can cause the muscles in the bowels to relax. Therefore, when the muscle relaxes, everything slow down and can result in constipation.
During the first trimester with the morning sickness symptoms, you may struggle to eat and drink enough to move your bowels. Also, taking prenatal or iron supplements during pregnancy can also contribute to constipation.
Adjusting your diet to treat and manage constipation
The good news is that this common pregnancy problem is easy to resolve. Just follow these simple tips, and you can expect relief within a few days without resorting to over-the-counter medications.
An adequate intake of fibre is one of the best ways to prevent constipation. Pregnant women should try to consume 25 to 30 grams of dietary fibre each day. A balanced diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds will ensure you have enough fibre in your diet. Choose whole grain such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa and millet. These will be gentler on your digestion and provide numerous other health benefits.
If you do not currently have a lot of fibre in your diet, then it is important to introduce it gradually. In large quantities, fibre can cause bloating, which may make you more uncomfortable.
Chia seeds are tasteless and easy to take. You can buy chia seeds from a health food store or the supermarket. You can soak chia seeds in any liquid and they will swell up to ten times their size and form into a slippery gel, which can make bowel movements easier to pass. Chia seeds are high in fibre, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and are low in calories. They can be sprinkled onto granola or oatmeal for breakfast, added to smoothie or yogurt, as well as make into protein balls.
Psyllium husk is a great fibre supplement. Like chia seeds it is water soluble, helping to soften and moisten the digestive tract and ease bowel motions. You can also add this to your breakfast, smoothies and juice. Make sure you are also drinking at least 1.5-2L of water if taking psyllium husk so it doesn’t dry out in your gut.
Fluid will move your stool and keeps your intestines smooth and flexible. This is especially important as if you only increase fibre intake but not water intake you will make your constipation worse. Pregnant women should drink eight 12-ounce glasses of fluid every day. If you are finding it difficult to drink water due to morning sickness you can also try herbal teas, such as ginger or mint or water with fresh lemon to help relieve your symptoms.
As your pregnancy progresses and your baby grows the increased downward pressure on your pelvic area makes constipation more likely. As long as your doctor has cleared you to engage in exercise, continuing to be active throughout each trimester may not only prepare you for birth, but also promote bowel movements. Pregnant women should try to exercise three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes each. Exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga and gentle light weights are all great options to stimulate your bowel and help to relieve constipation.
Your iron levels are checked regularly throughout your prenatal check-up. It is important to maintain a healthy iron level during pregnancy, but too much of iron can cause and worsen constipation in some women. Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about switching to a liquid or lesser does of iron which may help to ease your symptoms.
Not all laxatives and stool softeners are safe for use during pregnancy. Talk to you healthy care provider before taking any constipation medication or remedy.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Nutrition and lifestyle for a healthy pregnancy outcome. J Acad Nutr Diet 2014;114(7):1099-103.
- Jewell DJ, Young G. Interventions for treating constipation in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2001(2):CD001142.
Tan Ye Ting
Simple Balance Nutrition