Constipation is the second most common symptom of pregnancy, second only to nausea (1,2). Although constipation is not a fun symptom of pregnancy, it may be comforting to know that you are not alone in this experience. Constipation during pregnancy is a completely normal; however, this doesn’t mean it needs to be tolerated, and it shouldn’t be ignored.
When it comes to treating constipation during pregnancy, the focus is on symptom management and improving quality of life – because no one wants to feel gastrointestinal (GI) distress for nine months straight!
What causes constipation during pregnancy?
Increases in progesterone (a hormone) during pregnancy relaxes the smooth muscle of the GI tract and may cause constipation in some pregnant women (3). As your uterus grows, your organs begin to move and shift to make room. This movement can put pressure on your digestive organs, also causing constipation. In addition, your body absorbs more water during pregnancy which dries out your stool and adds to the many causes of constipation during pregnancy (2).
Tips to prevent or lessen symptoms of GI distress
- Drink lots of water
- Additional fluid requirements occur during pregnancy
- The recommendation is to consume 3.0 L per day (3)
- Tip: Carry a water bottle with you wherever you go
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day
- This gives your digestive system some relief and time to process
- Tip: Aim for 5 or 6 smaller meals and snacks throughout the day instead of larger meals
- Move your body
- Regular movement helps to move things along through your GI tract
- Tip: Keep a couple of weights by your couch or go for a walk around your block
- Hit your fibre goals
- The recommendation is 28 g per day (4)
- Common sources include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes
- Tip: choose whole grains instead of processed grains, and whole fruits instead of juices
- Focus on whole foods
- Tip: choose whole grain whole wheat bread instead of white bread
- Be mindful of your medications and supplementsT
- Some supplements and medications can impact digestion
- For example, iron supplements may increase symptoms of constipation (1)
- Tip: consult with your physician and dietitian about each medication and supplement
- Do your Kegel exercises
- Your pelvic floor can take a hit when you are pushing to pass a bowel movement, so training these muscles to relax and contract appropriately is important
- Tip: Consult with a pelvic floor physiotherapist
- Talk to your dietitian if suffering from constipation
- Especially if lifestyle changes are not lessening symptoms of GI distress during pregnancy
Final Notes from The Nest
Constipation is very common during pregnancy and is most common during the 1st and 2nd trimesters. This however, does not mean you have to be uncomfortable and suffer through it! Try to focus on lifestyle changes like drinking more water, eating more fibre, and moving your body for the best chances of relief from GI distress during pregnancy!
Looking for individualized nutrition recommendations for pregnancy?
- Zielinski, R., Searing, K., & Deibel, M. (2015). Gastrointestinal Distress in Pregnancy: Prevalence, Assessment, and Treatment of 5 Common Minor Discomforts. Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing, 29(1), 23-31. https://doi.org/10.1097/JPN.0000000000000078
- Trottier, M., Erebara, A., & Bozzo, P. (2012). Treating Constipation During Pregnancy. Canadian Family Physician, 58(8), 836-838.
- Brown, E. J. Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (5th ed.). Stamford (CT): Cengage Learning; 2014. 517p. (chapter 4)
- Beluska-Turkan, K., Korczak, R., Hartell, B., Moskal, K., Maukonen, J., Alexander, D. E., Salem, N., Harkness, L., Ayad, W., Szaro, J., Zhang, K., & Siriwardhana, N. (2019). Nutritional gaps and supplements in the first 1000 days. Nutrients, 11(12), 2891. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11122891
~ Written by Rebecca Woods