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.
Why does it happen?
- 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 anaemic.
- Many medications, including antacids and painkillers, will also cause constipation.
- During the later stages of pregnancy, there can be direct pressure from the uterus on the intestines.
What to do about it:
1. Increase water intake. It is very easy to become dehydrated during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Guzzle up! Dehydration doesn't only contribute to constipation, it can also lead to headaches, muscles cramps, and excess contractions.
2. Eat a tremendous amount of fruits and veggies. Your body’s favourite form of fibre is that found in fruits and veggies. You know there is a lot more to this one, but I don't think I need to labour the point here and now.
3. Exercise. Move your body. Exercise has been shown to encourage regular bowel movements. (To learn more about exercise during pregnancy, read here.)
4. Supplement your diet with supplements.
- 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. (Note: whenever you increase vitamin C, you also need to increase water consumption.)
- Take a probiotic. 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). Again, we could write a whole other blog on this one, but for now, start with a multi-strain broad-spectrum formula. Fermented foods are OK too!
- A note on Herbal Remedies: Although I do believe that there can be major benefits to taking herbal teas and remedies while pregnant, you should absolutely be under the supervision of a herbalist or TCM practitioner when doing so. This is a whole world of its own and should be explored with expert guidance.
5. Put manual therapies into practice for you.
- 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).
- Craniosacral Therapy increases parasympathetic activity, which can give your digestive function a much-needed boost.
A Note on Laxatives
I have found 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 physical proximity). The fear is that laxatives will cause unwanted contractions in the smooth muscle of the uterus, not just your colon. Depending on the 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).