What is constipation?
Having constipation means that you’re struggling to poop, or have a bowel movement. It happens when the food that your body no longer needs (waste) hardens in the lower part of your digestive tract (bowel) instead of moving out as a stool. Most people have had the unpleasant experience of being constipated before, but it’s even more common when you’re pregnant. The hormone changes in your body that make pregnancy possible can increase your chances of becoming constipated.
When does constipation in pregnancy start?
You may start to feel constipated once the hormone levels in your body increase to support your pregnancy. The changes can happen as early as the second or third month of your first trimester.
How common is constipation in pregnancy?
About 16 to 39% of people get constipated at some point during pregnancy. You’re most likely to get constipated in the third trimester, when the fetus is heaviest and putting the most pressure on your bowel. Constipation can happen in all three trimesters, though. Sometimes, you’ll continue to be constipated up to three months after the baby’s born.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes constipation during pregnancy?
Hormone changes in your body during pregnancy and your daily habits can increase your chances of constipation. Causes for constipation during pregnancy include:
- Progesterone: Your body makes more of the hormone progesterone when you’re pregnant. Progesterone relaxes your intestines, or bowel, so that they don’t work as hard to squeeze waste out through your body. The slowdown allows your body more time to absorb nutrients and water from the food you eat. The longer the food remains in your bowel the more time your large intestine (colon) has to absorb the moisture out of it. The waste becomes dried out and hard to pass when you try to poop.
- The fetus: A growing fetus makes your uterus heavier. This extra weight can put more pressure on your bowel, making it harder for waste to travel out of your body.
- The iron from your prenatal vitamin: The iron you’re getting from your prenatal vitamin helps your body make the blood needed to circulate oxygen throughout yours and your baby’s bodies. Too much iron can make it harder for bacteria in your bowel to break down food, though. Not drinking enough water to soften the waste that’s stuck in your bowel just makes the problem worse. The waste can build up, causing you to become constipated.
- Lifestyle: Your diet, the amount of fluids you drink each day, and how much exercising you do all play a role in making your constipated. Most people who are pregnant are not eating enough fiber, drinking enough water, or getting enough exercise to help their digestive system move waste out of the body.
What are the symptoms of constipation?
Releasing a stool feels satisfying. Constipation feels just the opposite. You can tell you’re constipated when:
- You’re only able to poop a few times a week.
- You strain to poop, and your belly feels swollen and gassy.
- When you poop, your stools are lumpy and hard. They’re so dry that passing them is painful.
Sometimes, constipation leads to or worsens hemorrhoids and anal fissures. Like constipation, both conditions are common during pregnancy.
Is constipation a sign of pregnancy?
Diagnosis and Tests
How is constipation during pregnancy diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may ask you how much you’re pooping and what your stools look like. Other questions about your daily habits can help your provider find out what’s likely causing your constipation or making it worse. Your provider may ask:
- What your diet’s like and how much you’re drinking each day.
- If you’re exercising or getting enough physical activity.
- What medicines or supplements you’re taking.
Management and Treatment
How do you relieve constipation during pregnancy?
You can’t stop pregnancy hormones from making it harder for you to poop, but you can make other changes that can help.
- Eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber-rich foods each day: It’s easy to ignore health advice that sounds too simple, like “just eat right.” But fiber really can help. Fiber softens your stools so that they’re easier to pass. You can get fiber from fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, peas and lentils. Take the time to measure how many grams you’re getting from the foods you’re eating. If you’re constipated, it’s likely that you’re not eating enough fiber.
- Drink eight to 12 cups of water each day: Ignore the thinking that says you only need eight cups of water a day. Eight cups is the bare minimum when you’re pregnant. You need more fluid than usual to support your pregnancy and to soften your stools. Water is best, but if you’re not a fan, try other drinks. Low-fat milk, smoothies, tea and juices with no added sugar are good options.
- Get 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week: It’s common to move around less when you’re pregnant. You’re carrying extra weight. Pregnancy can put strain on your pelvic area and joints that may make moving around hard to do. But sitting isn’t good for your bowel if you’re constipated. The waste just sits there. Speak with your healthcare provider about exercises for you that are safe and that jumpstart the muscles in your bowel.
- Try a different prenatal vitamin: The iron in your prenatal vitamin may be too much for your digestive system to handle. Your provider can suggest another vitamin with less iron.
What medications can I take to relieve constipation when I’m pregnant?
If you can’t get relief through lifestyle changes, your healthcare provider may prescribe a laxative or a fiber supplement that can help. Always check with your provider before taking any laxatives or supplements, though. Not all of them have been tested for safety and effectiveness during pregnancy. Avoid home remedies for constipation, like castor oil or mineral oil, unless your provider recommends you take them.
What are side effects of the treatment?
Some laxatives can cause you to become dehydrated and imbalance your electrolytes. This is why it’s so important to be sure that you’re taking the right laxative and that you’re taking it for the right amount of time. Speak to your provider to be sure.
How can I reduce my risk of becoming constipated during pregnancy?
You can reduce your risk of becoming constipated by doing the same things you would do to manage constipation. Pay attention to how much fiber you’re eating and fluids you’re drinking. Schedule exercise that feels doable for you. Walking, swimming, yoga, pilates and light aerobics are all good options to keep your bowel active.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I’m constipated during my pregnancy?
After you’ve had your baby and your hormone levels begin to return to their pre-pregnancy levels, your bowel movements will likely return to normal.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
Reach out to your provider if you’ve been constipated for longer than a few weeks. Don’t dread trips to the bathroom when your provider can help you. Be sure to get your provider’s OK on any medication you take when you’re pregnant. This includes fiber supplements and laxatives.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can constipation hurt the baby during pregnancy?
No. All the pressure that builds up in your belly because of constipation may make you worry for your baby. But don’t stress. Constipation may be unpleasant for you, but it won’t harm your baby.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You may have to make some changes to manage constipation when you’re pregnant. But there are straightforward things you and your provider can do to help get you relief. The foods you eat, the fluids you drink, the exercise you do and the medicine you take all make a difference when it’s time to visit the toilet. Put good habits into place so that your memories of pregnancy don’t include having to suffer through uncomfortable bowel movements.
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