You just entered your third trimester, and you’re keeping a secret: During the past two weeks, you’ve had a total of four bowel movements. The lack of colon cooperation is making you increasingly uncomfortable and vulnerable to hemorrhoids, as well as raising your stress level. You’ve never had a problem with constipation before, so why is it happening now?
The changes your body is undergoing during pregnancy can affect your digestive system in many ways, from the functioning of the intestines to the makeup of waste. Shifting hormones, including higher levels of progesterone, can make the bowels move stool along the digestive tract at a slower-than-normal rate. The stool itself may be drier because the colon absorbs more water. As your uterus gets bigger, it may compress the intestines, causing a slow down in digestion.
Dealing with pregnancy constipation may feel like a lonely experience in part because it can be difficult to talk about. If you have friends who are expecting, however, many of them probably know exactly what you’re going through. About half of expectant mothers experience constipation, according to the American Pregnancy Association. For many who experience pregnancy-related constipation, making lifestyle changes is the key to finding relief.
Eat, Drink and Go
Use these tips to move past pregnancy constipation and prevent it from happening again:
- Spill your secret. Living with constipation can be more uncomfortable than talking about it. The sooner you tell your doctor what’s going on, the quicker you can start treating the problem.
- Feast on fiber-rich foods. You need at least 25 grams of fiber per day during pregnancy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Whole-grain bread and pasta, beans, crunchy vegetables (think carrots and broccoli), bran cereal, popcorn, almonds, and berries are great sources of dietary fiber.
- Dine with iron intake in mind. Get this mineral from food, if possible, because iron supplements are linked to constipation. Many foods contain iron, including chicken, turkey, eggs, dark chocolate, sweet potatoes, green beans, kale, raisins, strawberries and whole-wheat bread.
- Stay active. Moderate aerobic exercise engages the intestines and helps keep waste moving. Try walking or swimming for a low-impact activity.
- Hydrate heartily. Increasing your fiber intake works best when you pair it with plenty of fluids, especially water. The American Pregnancy Association advises drinking at least 10 cups daily.
- Know what’s safe if you need extra help. Sometimes, over-the-counter (OTC) assistance is necessary to break constipation’s grip. Safe OTC products for mothers-to-be include Citrucel®, Colace®, Dulcolax®, Fiberall, FiberCon®, Fleet®, Metamucil® and MiraLAX®. Laxative pills and mineral oils are unsafe to use during pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association.