Women's Healthcare Topics

Is Constipation in Pregnancy Normal? What Can I do About it?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Constipation a Problem of the Second Trimester

More than half of all pregnant women will experience some degree of constipation. You may feel the discomfort early in the first trimester, but it's typically more of a problem in the second trimester.

You're considered constipated if you have fewer than three bowel movements a week; if you have difficulty or pain when you pass a hardened stool. Constipation can also be accompanied by bloating, abdominal pain and discomfort.

If you feel like you need to move your bowels even after you've finished, this may be another sign of constipation. Sometimes, excessive diarrhea can be a sign that you're constipated. If a small amount of hard stool is blocking your intestines, your body may compensate by eliminate the waste via diarrhea.

Causes of Constipation During Pregnancy

Some pregnant women are more prone to constipation due to poor fluid and fiber intake in their diet. If you don't drink enough water and eat enough fiber-containing foods during pregnancy, constipation may be a chronic problem for the entire 40 weeks of your pregnancy.

Even if you've always been regular, you may still experience this symptom of pregnancy due to hormonal changes in your body. The elevated levels of progesterone relax all the "smooth" muscles in your body. As a result, this hormone decreases the strength of your bowel contractions, which slows down the motility of the bowel and increases the absorption of fluids and foods in your body. This change makes it more likely that your stool is more compact and hard, which makes it more uncomfortable to pass.

Constipation during pregnancy prevention.

It's not uncommon for pregnant women to go five or more days without a bowel movement. Iron and calcium supplements, not enough fluids or fiber in your diet, and lack of exercise during pregnancy can all contribute to constipation.

In addition, the physical changes that occur in your expanding body can also play a role in causing you to be more constipation. As your uterus gets larger and your baby's head is in your pelvis, the pelvic floor will relax, which causes your lower intestine and rectum to become compressed, making it harder for stool to easily pass through.

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How to Prevent Constipation in Pregnancy

Because constipation is uncomfortable, the best thing you can do is to try to prevent this symptom before it occurs. To prevent constipation, consider the following tips:

  • Eat high-fiber foods – Fiber will help form softer stools. You can find fiber in many unprocessed grains, vegetables and fruits. High-fiber fruits include apples, pears, prunes, raspberries, tangerines, and oranges. You can find in vegetables, such as broccoli, acorn squash, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, and Brussels sprouts. Fiber can also be found in kidney beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, and whole-grain cereal.

  • Drink plenty of water and fluids – Dehydration can cause constipation, so you will want to get plenty of water and other fluids in your diet. To ward off constipation, consider drinking at least six to eight glasses of water a day.

  • Exercise regularly – Unless your doctor was warned you against it, exercise is perfectly safe and healthy during pregnancy. Regular exercise can help your digestive system stay active and healthy.

  • Go when you have the urge – Don't ignore the urge to go to the bathroom. Holding it in can lead to constipation.

It's very important that you don't use too much force to push your bowel movements along. You may pop blood vessels and cause hemorrhoids (which are very common in pregnancy). Constipation is hard enough to deal with without those difficulties added to the mix.

Treatment for Pregnancy-Related Constipation

If you're experiencing severe constipation, call your doctor. He may be able to recommend stool softeners, which moisten your stool and make it easier to pass. Stool softeners are usually safe during pregnancy because the active ingredients aren't absorbed, so it's unlikely to harm your developing baby.

Bulk forming laxatives — Bulk forming laxatives include psyllium seed (eg, Metamucil), methylcellulose (eg, Citrucel), calcium polycarbophil (eg, FiberCon), and wheat dextran (eg, Benefiber). They are natural or synthetic polysaccharides or cellulose derivatives that primarily exert their laxative effect by absorbing water and increasing fecal mass. These laxatives are effective in increasing the frequency and softening the consistency of stool with a minimum of adverse effects. They may be used alone or in combination with an increase in dietary fiber.

Saline laxatives, such as Milk of Magnesia, can also help treat constipation. Be careful not to use any irritant laxatives, mineral oils, or edemas – all of these can cause your uterus can contract prematurely.

Always talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications or laxatives. You want to be safe rather than sorry.


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