Up to 40% of women experience constipation at some point during pregnancy. It is second only to nausea as the most common gastrointestinal complaint during pregnancy.
- Higher levels of the hormone progesterone calm smooth muscle. This is good for keeping your uterus sedated, but it also slows motility of gastrointestinal tract.
- The hormone motilin, which stimulates gastric activity, is reduced during pregnancy.
- Certain supplements (including iron and calcium) can cause constipation and are commonly taken while pregnant, especially when mothers are anemic.
- Many medications, including antacids and pain-killers, will also cause constipation.
- During the later stages of pregnancy, there can be direct pressure from uterus on the intestines.
What to do about it?
Increase water intake. It is very easy to become dehydrated during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Guzzle up!
Eat a tremendous amount of fruits and veggies. Your body’s favorite form of fibre is that found in fruits and veggies.
Exercise. Move your body. Exercise has been shown to encourage regular bowel movements. (To learn more about exercise during pregnancy, read here.)
- Make sure your iron supplement is a highly bioavailable, chelated, non-constipated form.
- Increase your vitamin C intake (dietary and supplemental). Your vitamin C requirements double during pregnancy. It is a safe, water-soluble vitamin that plays many important roles in the body and it can help relieve constipation.
- Take a probiotic supplement. The healthy bacteria in your gut can help you stay busy and are crucial for overall health. Sorry, Activia doesn’t count (more sugar than live cultures).
Although I do believe that there can be benefits to taking herbal teas and remedies while pregnant, you should absolutely be under the supervision of an herbalist of TCM practitioner. This is a whole world on its own and should be explored with expert guidance.
- Chiropractic care is an incredible gift for pregnant women. Usually our focus is on preparing mom’s body for the big day and all the benefits therein, but it can also encourage better nervous system balance important for healthy “movements”.
- Massage therapy can help relieve spasmed muscles and improve the tension surrounding your visceral organs. Both back and belly massages can improve gut motility (and make you feel really good).
There is very limited data on the safety of laxatives during pregnancy. Consider that the smooth muscle of the uterus has many receptors and features in common with the smooth muscle of the intestinal tract (as well as very close proximity). The fear is that laxatives will cause unwanted contractions in the smooth muscle of the uterus, not just your colon. Depending on type of laxative, there are also concerns with electrolyte balance and dehydration. Generally, fibre or bulking laxatives will be recommended by your MD. Be sure to start slow! Avoid mineral oils (they interfere with absorption of your fat-soluble vitamins), laxative salts, and any stimulating laxatives (oral or suppository).