pregnant tummy with heartConstipation. "It is almost the number-one complaint I get from all of my patients at some point during the pregnancy," reveals Aron Schuftan, MD, OB/GYN in aprivate practice in Silicon Valley, California. In fact, the American Pregnancy Association estimates that half of pregnant women experience constipation. It can be a problem at any time during the pregnancy, but women are most often affected in the first trimester and third trimester. The reason? "Increased levels of progesterone in your body slows intestines down and increases absorption of fluid," Dr. Schuftan explains. Pressure of the expanding uterus on the intestines can also contribute.

Although it can be painful and annoying, constipation isn't dangerous and shouldn't cause you alarm. But there are some prevention and treatment (ah, relief) tips to bear in mind.

The Symptoms: Difficulty or straining while passing stools, infrequent stools (fewer than three in a week), gas, and bloating are all indicative of constipation. It's something we've all experienced at one time or another, but when it's during pregnancy, you may be especially concerned, so you may want to visit your doctor or midwife for an accurate diagnosis. (If you're experiencing severe constipation that comes with abdominal pain, alternates with diarrhea, or you're passing mucus or blood, you should call your health care provider ASAP.)

Tips for Prevention: "The high iron content in prenatal vitamins can increase constipation, so look into slow-release iron supplements," advises Dr. Schuftan. Even if you switch (after consulting with your health care provider), you may want to take a few other measures to keep constipation at bay, such as:

  • Drinking more water. "Pregnant women should always drink more fluid, especially water, aiming for at least 10 glasses per day," advises Dr. Schuftan.
  • Exercising. Since inactivity can promote constipation, getting at least 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise will help stimulate your bowels. "Walking, swimming, and yoga are all good ways to prevent constipation," recommends Karen Deighan, MD, chair of OB/GYN at Loyola University Health System’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. But if you're short on time, don't worry. "Even a 10-minute workout that’s as low-impact, like a brisk walk, can do the trick," shares Marcel Favetta, MD, OB/GYN, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania.
  • Eating more fiber (foods like apples, whole grain cereals and breads, fresh fruits and veggies), which can help break up constipation. "Meanwhile, refined foods, such as white rice or white bread, can clog things up, especially during pregnancy," notes Dr. Favetta. There's a caveat, though: If you don't already eat a high-fiber diet, you'll want to ease your way into it. "Introducing mass amounts of fiber too quickly can lead to uncomfortable gas and bloating," says Dr. Favetta.
  • Avoiding big meals. Strive to steer clear of eating too much at one sitting. "Large meals can tax a mother’s already stressed digestive system," explains Dr. Favetta.

Treatment Options: If you're suffering from constipation, start out by trying an over-the-counter psyllium fiber (like Metamucil), suggests Dr. Schuftan. Or experiment with drinking plum or prune juice, which Johns Hopkins researchers found is as likely as psyllium to provide immediate relief (within 24 hours of first use) of constipation symptoms. But note, certain DIY fixes are discouraged during pregnancy. "Do not take laxatives, as these can cause dehydration, which can lead to preterm labor," advises Dr. Deighan. If over-the-counter measures fail, it's best to see your doctor, who can take a closer look at your iron levels, diet, activity, and other factors that can exacerbate digestive issues, such as worry or anxiety.

Did you ever have constipation during pregnancy? What treatments worked for you? 

 

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