Constipation in pregnancy

by Mother & Baby Team |

Pregnancy constipation is just one of the most glamorous of side effects during those nine months of your body changing.

Oh, the glamour! Irregular bowel movements and sluggish digestion is uncomfortable and a nuisance – and it’s common in pregnancy. But you can get things moving again.

What is it?

Constipation is the frustrating, but aching problem when you just can’t poo. ‘This of course means different things to different people,’ says Mervi Jokinen from The Royal College of Midwives. ‘If you normally only go to the toilet two to three times a week, you probably wouldn’t feel constipated until you hadn’t been for a week or two. However, if you go every day and haven’t been for four days, then this could be a sign of constipation.’

It’s thought that around 40% of women will get constipation during pregnancy. The hormone progesterone is released to loosen the ligaments and muscles in your body making it easier for your baby to be delivered.

‘These hormones also affect the muscles around your intestines, causing digestion to become sluggish,’ says Mervi. Some iron supplements, which are prescribed to treat anaemia in pregnancy, can also cause constipation.

What are the symptoms?

As well as not having a bowel movement, you could also experience bloating and abdominal pain, and any poo you do produce could be hard and dry. ‘If you strain too hard, you may develop haemorrhoids (piles), which can be itchy and bleed, leaving bright red blood on the tissue or in the bowl,’ says Mervi.

What can you do?

Diet is one of the best ways to tackle constipation. ‘Include plenty of fibre-rich foods such as wholegrain cereals, oats, vegetables and dried fruit such as apricots and prunes,’ says Mervi. ‘Beans and pulses are also good sources. However, make sure you also up your fluid intake or it could be a painful process.’

Aim to drink around 1.5 litres of fluid be it water, juice or herbal tea. Gentle exercise, including walking or swimming, is also good for constipation as it increases circulation to stimulate your digestive system.

When to see your GP:

If you haven’t been to the loo for a long time and are in pain. ‘Your GP may prescribe laxatives to help encourage a bowel movement,’ says Mervi. ‘If you can only get to a pharmacy, make sure you tell the chemist that you’re pregnant so they can give you a laxative that’s safe in pregnancy.’

If you’ve developed piles, you can get creams ointments to treat the discomfort, but see your doctor if you get persistent bleeding.

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