When you found out you were pregnant, you probably didn’t expect to have to do any pushing until you were in labor. Unfortunately, many pregnant women find themselves straining and pushing early on – just to go to the bathroom.
Constipation is a common problem during pregnancy, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about it.
Constipation involves infrequent or improper bowel movements, which are difficult to pass.
You can also experience pain when passing the stool, and it could cause tearing of the tissues and anal tenderness. A decrease in appetite as well as abdominal bloating and pain are other common symptoms of constipation.
Up to one-fourth of women experience constipation throughout their pregnancy and three months postpartum, according to a 2007 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology (1).
There are a variety of reasons that may be behind constipation during pregnancy. Some common causes include:
- Reduced food and water consumption due to extreme nausea in early pregnancy.
- Ongoing hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy that can relax some muscles, including those that move food through the digestive tract.
- Diet full of refined flour products, such as pasta, bread, cakes and pastries, or refined white rice.
- Iron supplements that are prescribed during pregnancy.
- Growth of the uterus increasing the pressure on the intestines, thus causing difficulty in smooth bowel movements.
- Lack of exercise, making it difficult for food to pass through the digestive tract smoothly.
- Too much anxiety and worrying during pregnancy.
If you don’t do something about your constipation, you may end up with one of two unpleasant consequences – hemorrhoids or fissures.
Luckily, both can be avoided if you take steps to relieve the constipation. Certain lifestyle changes and home remedies can help keep your bowel movements regular.
Here are the top 10 home remedies to treat constipation during pregnancy.
1. Get More Dietary Fiber
To fight off constipation during pregnancy, the first step is to increase your fiber intake. Fiber adds bulk to the stools and makes them easier to pass.
A study published in Canadian Family Physician in 2012 concludes that the first line of therapy for constipation during pregnancy includes increasing dietary fiber and water intake, along with moderate amounts of daily exercise.
If these are ineffective, laxatives are the second line of therapy (2).
Both soluble and insoluble fiber can help. The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 to 28 grams during pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
To get fiber, include whole-grain cereals and breads, brown rice, beans, lentils, and fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet.
2. Increase Your Fluid Intake
When suffering from constipation during pregnancy, it is very important to drink enough fluids. This will stimulate bowel movements and give you good results within a few days.
Low fluid intake decreases the mass and frequency of stools. A study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education in 2002 highlights the importance of water intake during pregnancy and states that increased fluid intake can help alleviate constipation (3).
Make sure to drink about 8 to 10 glasses of water daily. Along with water, you can drink fresh vegetable and fruit juices throughout the day.
Don’t try to drink it all at once. Spread out the recommended amount of water over the course of the day.
3. Exercise Regularly
Pregnancy does not mean that you need to go on bed rest (unless ordered by your doctor). Doing light exercise throughout the pregnancy can benefit you in many ways. In fact, light exercises can help aid digestion and relieve constipation symptoms.
Exercising will help food move faster through the large intestine and help the bowel muscles contract, moving waste along.
For pregnant women, one of the best exercises is walking. Aim for 10 to 30 minutes of walking a day, especially after having your meal, to help with bowel movements.
Swimming, riding a stationary bicycle or doing yoga on a regular basis can also help the intestines and stimulate bowel movements.
If you are new to exercise, check with your doctor about which exercises are safe for you and your baby.
4. Eat Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is rich in probiotic bacteria that help treat constipation.
It contains acidophilus bacteria that stimulate your digestive tract and get things moving through easily. These good bacteria also improve nutrient absorption, which is especially important during pregnancy.
You can eat 2 to 3 cups of plain Greek yogurt on a daily basis. You can also top it with fresh fruit or nuts. Even a smoothie containing the yogurt can help.
If you want to take a probiotic supplement, consult your doctor first.
5. Drink Lemon Water
Lemon water is another commonly used remedy to treat constipation, as it increases the production of bile in your body. This helps increase contractions of the bowel muscles and keeps things moving easily.
Lemon also exhibits antioxidant properties and has high vitamin C content, which is important for you and the baby growing inside you.
- Squeeze the juice from ½ of a lemon into a glass of lukewarm water.
- Add a raw little honey for taste.
- Drink it twice daily.
6. Think Again About Iron Supplements
The iron in prenatal vitamin supplements is one of the top reasons associated with constipation during pregnancy.
Iron supplements are believed to slow down digestion by sticking to the undigested substances in your body, which in turn triggers constipation.
If you are not anemic and following a healthy diet, then talk to your doctor about reducing or eliminating iron supplements.
If you need the iron supplements, take smaller doses throughout the day rather than taking it all at once. Of course, you should always discuss it with your doctor to manage the dosage well. Also, you can ask your doctor about taking a liquid form of the supplement rather than a pill.
7. Take Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk is another good remedy to help promote regularity and improve overall digestive health during pregnancy. This natural laxative contains insoluble fiber that adds bulk to your stools and makes bowel movements easier.
Psyllium husk is available at most drug stores.
- Mix ½ to 1 teaspoon of psyllium husk into a glass of warm water or milk.
- Drink it once daily before going to bed.
Note: When taking psyllium husk, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day or else it may cause bloating in some cases.
8. Use Squat Toilets
Squat toilets are the best when you are experiencing constipation.
Such toilets make the elimination process faster, easier, and more complete. In the squat position, the guts straighten out, leaving you to do the job in comfort. As the position leads to easier and faster bowel movements, it helps prevent constipation and hemorrhoids
For pregnant women, squatting avoids pressure on the uterus when using the toilet and even prepares you for natural delivery.
9. Eat Smaller Meals
When suffering from constipation, try breaking up your daily food intake into smaller meals. Instead of having two or three large meals, eat five or six small meals throughout the day.
Smaller and more frequent meals will allow the stomach to digest food without having to work overtime. Also, it gives time for the food to transfer to the intestine and colon smoothly.
On the other hand, eating large meals can overload your stomach and your digestive system will find it hard to digest the food. Moreover, because of your hormones, expanding uterus and prenatal vitamins, the digestion process is already working slower than usual.
Eating smaller meals also helps combat heartburn as well as bloating and indigestion.
10. Do Kegel Exercises
Doing Kegel or pelvic floor exercises can help keep you regular when practiced regularly. Pelvic floor muscle strength is important for both bowel and bladder control.
Chronic straining during bowel movements due to constipation can lead to weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. They need to be strengthened to prevent accidental bowel leakage.
Kegel exercises also help strengthen your muscles for a vaginal delivery.
- Tighten your pelvic floor muscles (the ones you use to stop the flow of urine in midstream). Make sure you do not move your legs, buttocks or abdominal muscles.
- Hold for a count of 5.
- Then, relax the muscles for 5 seconds.
- Repeat up to 10 times for 1 complete set.
- Aim for doing at least 3 sets a day.
- Listen to your body and act promptly whenever you need to use the bathroom.
- Avoid taking laxative pills during pregnancy because they might stimulate uterine contractions and cause dehydration. However, some women may have to take stool softeners.
- Do not take mineral oils to treat constipation, as they reduce nutrient absorption.
- Eating dry fruits like dates, raisins, and prunes can help treat your pregnancy constipation.
- Start any meal with raw fruit, a vegetable, or salad.
- Avoid straining and sitting for long periods of time.
- Do not consume caffeine in excess, as it has a diuretic effect that compounds constipation.
- Constipation in pregnancy: prevalence, symptoms, and risk factors. Obstetrics and gynecology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18055731. Published December 2007.
- Treating constipation during pregnancy. Canadian Family Physician. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3418980/. Published August 2012.
- Nutrition Column An Update on Water Needs during Pregnancy and Beyond. The Journal of Perinatal Education. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595116/. Published 2002.