Baby on board and feeling backed up? Constipation in pregnancy is really common thanks to everything going on with your hormones, growing body parts and increased iron that makes going to the loo a whole lot harder.
Thankfully there are some really easy ways to get your bowels moving, including simple changes to diet and gentle exercise.
What is constipation?
Constipation is not being able to poo, or passing hard stools. It’s technically defined as having less than three bowel motions a week, with stools that are difficult or hard to pass. The most common causes of constipation include not getting enough fibre in the daily diet, not enough fluids and lack of exercise.
Why is constipation in pregnancy so common?
According to Healthline, there are a few reasons why so many expecting mums experience constipation during pregnancy, especially in the second and third months of pregnancy. These include …
Hormones: During pregnancy, your level of the relaxing hormone, progesterone increases. This is a good thing when it comes to loosening ligaments and muscles to accommodate a growing baby, but it also relaxes our intestines. Slower intestines mean food takes longer to pass through our digestive system and sometimes backups leading to constipation.
Womb pressure: There’s a teeny human growing in your uterus and as they continue to grow, space is at a premium and you might find a little someone with a foot in your bowel stopping it from doing its usual job.
Increased iron: Prenatal vitamins often contain iron, and because iron supplements tend to not absorb well during digestion, much of the iron gets left behind in the intestines. It binds to other undigested bits and pieces and doesn’t flow well through the bowel.
How do you ease pregnancy constipation?
There are some really easy ways to get things moving if you’re suffering from pregnancy constipation, including adding a few helpful foods to your diet, changing the position to sit in when pooping. Here are the three main ways to help ease pregnancy constipation.
1. Increase fibre
When it comes to the perfect poop, fibre is your friend. The kind of fibre we’re talking about is dietary fibre – the kind your body sources through the food you eat. But here’s the thing about fibre-rich foods – our bodies can’t actually absorb fibre. It passes through the stomach, small intestine and colon and then out of our body.
Dietary fibre makes our poop heavier, bigger and softer. And this passes more easily, meaning there’s less chance of becoming constipated. We should be consuming around 25-30g of fibre a day. And the easiest way to add fibre to your body is simply through high fibre foods.
But according to Better Health, increasing your fibre intake won’t help with constipation unless you also increase your water consumption. Remember, fibre isn’t absorbed into the body, it passes through the body and it needs water to do that. So on that note…
2. Increase water
Here’s a simple equation: dehydration = constipation. In fact, dehydration is the leading cause of constipation. So while you may have upped your fibre intake, it won’t matter if you haven’t had enough water to keep the food passing through.
Pregnant women need to be drinking at least seven to eight glasses of water a day, more if it’s hot. Sometimes this is easier said than done, so make water a little more appealing by infusing water with fruit or herbal teas.
3. Change your pooping position
Yep, we’re talking about using a stool to help with your stools. Getting in the right position to poop is really important. The key is to position yourself with your knees above your hips, this will move your colon into the optimal pooping position and you won’t need to strain. And the easiest way to do this is to have a little step on hand.
Also, take your time on the loo. Easier said than done if you have an inquisitive toddler as well, but if you can, try and go slow and avoid straining. Go when you have the urge, especially when you get up in the morning.
4. Drink fruit juice
Juice isn’t just a delicious way to start the day, it’s also packed with sorbitol, which helps regulate bowel movements by pulling water into the large intestine. More water in the gut means those hard stools get looser, and move through your digestive tract easier.
Mum Tip: So add some apple, pear or prune juice to your shopping list, and remember you don’t need to consume a lot of it to get things happening; a glass of prune juice has about 2.6 grams of fibre. That’s about 10 per cent of your daily required intake.
5. Take pregnancy vitamins before a meal
You’ve probably heard that iron supplements cause constipation. It happens because the iron intake from supplements disturbs the balance of microbes in the digestive tract. This impacts the intestines, which sometimes slows down the bowel. It means poo stays in the bowel longer, and more water than normal is absorbed, making it hard and difficult to get out.
Mum Tip: Often the extra iron in pregnancy supplements is a factor in pregnancy constipation, so the mums in the Mum’s Grapevine Pregnancy Facebook Groups have found that taking their daily pregnancy supplements just before dinner, works wonders and bowel movements are perfectly fine the next day.
6. Switch to whole grains
Increasing your fibre intake is one of the easiest and best things you can do to combat pregnancy constipation. And whole grain foods are a brilliant source of fibre. A really simple way to get some more whole grains into your diet is by switching from white bread to whole grain bread.
One study found that whole grain rye bread is actually better than laxatives for relieving constipation. And the main component of dietary fibre in rye, arabinoxylan, keeps food travelling through the intestine. It’s a simple switch to the morning vegemite on toast, but it could help keep you regular.
7. Snack on high-fibre food
Most of us know that prunes make a fab snack for upping your fibre intake, but nature produces lots of other delicious goodies that pack a serious fibre punch. Avocados contain a whopping 10 grams of fibre per cup (hello avo on toast!), and raspberries contain 8 grams of fibre per cup – so be sure to add a few handfuls to your pregnancy smoothie or yoghurt.
In great news for movie lovers, Healthline explains that popcorn is actually one of the best snacks you can eat for increasing fibre, containing 14.4 grams per 100 grams! Skip the unhealthy fats, though, and stick to air-popping those kernels.
8. Drink peppermint tea
A soothing brew of peppermint tea helps calm the stomach muscles and is said to promote healthy bowel movement during pregnancy. The menthol in peppermint is said to relax the stomach so that stools move more easily through the intestines.
Mum Tip: The best time to have a cup of peppermint tea is after a meal to get things moving.
9. Lay on your side
We’re told that we should be sleeping on our side when pregnant to take the pressure off the blood vessels that supply the uterus. But did you know your sleeping position may also help with constipation?
According to science, sleeping on our left side at night helps gravity take our bodily waste through our colon to where it needs to be, ready for a poop in the morning. And here’s a bonus for mummas struggling with pregnancy heartburn. Because left-side sleeping helps with digestion, it may also help ease heartburn thanks to the gastric juices staying lower in the oesophagus while we’re sleeping.
10. Go for a walk
Getting moving might just help things get moving! It’s all about getting your digestive system working well, and helping food move through the large intestine a quickly as possible. Exercising helps stimulate the nervous system and gets those muscles and nerves in your gut working better for you.
Things like walking and swimming are great gentle pregnancy exercise when you’re not feeling energetic, you’ll feel better for it and it’s known to get the bowels going.
11. Eat smaller meals
Big meals mean big digestion, so break down your meals into smaller portions throughout the day to give your body a break. It may also help with morning sickness … bonus!
Make sure to drink plenty of water with your meals, to help get those stools loosened and if you’re going to exercise, wait an hour after a big meal to help your food digest.
12. Try stool softeners
Sometimes, despite all the juice drinking and correct poop positioning, things just won’t get moving and you may want to try a stool softener. Available in a few different formats, stool softeners are usually taken at bedtime for a short period of time to help get things moving.
Of course, chat to your midwife or doctor about stool softeners and other options if more natural ways aren’t working for you.
Read next …
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The information provided on Mum’s Grapevine is for education and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Nor is the information intended as a substitute for professional consultation with a qualified health practitioner.