Pregnancy is usually a wonderful (and worrisome!) time for most women.
There is nothing that can describe the feeling of having another being rapidly growing inside you, while moving and communicating with you too.
To most women, this is worth the petty annoyances and health issues that can arise, such as constipation.
Many women suffer from constipation during pregnancy, with one study finding that it effects around a quarter of all pregnant women. It can be embarrassing to talk about, therefore some women suffer in silence until it becomes a really difficult issue.
Here are 4 main reasons for constipation during pregnancy:
#1: Constipation Due To Reduced Food and Water Consumption
If you suffer from extreme nausea in early pregnancy, you may struggle to eat and drink enough to move your bowels. If you vomit as well, you may become dehydrated, which can cause hard stools.
#2: Constipation Due To Hormonal Changes
Hormonal changes which occur in your body later in pregnancy can relax some muscles, including the ones which squeeze food along the digestive tract. This can prevent foods from moving along the bowels easily, especially if your diet is low in fibre and water. Unfortunately, many over-the-counter constipation relievers have aspartame (artificial sweetener) and other nasties in them, which are best avoided when pregnant.
#3: Constipation Due To Diet
It's important to understand that refined flour products such as pasta, bread, cakes and pastries, or refined white rice, have lost most or all of their fibre. Just like when you remove the skin from an apple, it takes away much of the goodness and you feel less full.
Refined flour products don't move through the digestive tract very easily. Refined foods cause constipation by absorbing any liquid that you drink, and creating a plaster-like substance which makes your bowels become stretched. It can exacerbate the issues when you have hormonal changes on top of that.
#4: Constipation Due To Iron Supplements
Iron supplements are also a common cause of constipation in pregnancy. Normal iron supplements do not absorb well in the digestion process, and very little iron makes it's way into the bloodstream. Much of it is left in the intestines.
The leftover iron binds with other undigested substances to become sticky and tar like, and does not move well out of the bowel. Iron supplements are unnecessary as long as the diet is adequate for pregnancy.
If you are unable to get enough iron in your diet, there are herbal extracts to supplement your iron intake which do not cause constipation. Adjusting your diet and ceasing the iron supplements will bring fairly quick relief from constipation.
Iron is obtained through consuming fresh greens, from meats, from nutritional supplements such as molasses and nutritional yeast, and if you still need an extra boost you can take a herbal extract for iron. Speak to a nutritionist if you would like help to improve the amount of iron in your diet.
Adjusting Your Diet To Prevent And Treat Constipation
Dietary problems are the most difficult to deal with, as people have been told so many different stories about what constitutes a good diet.
You've likely already received well meaning advice from friends, relatives and others, which may have you in a bit of a pickle about what you should be eating.
Whether you are vegetarian or a meat eater, your daily pregnancy diet should contain:
- A good amount of protein
- At least several cups full of raw and cooked green veggies
- As many coloured veggies as you can
- Some fruit
- Good quality dairy for calcium — supplemental calcium if you can't eat dairy
- Around 6 tablespoons of saturated fats in the form of virgin coconut oil, butter, animal fats
- Around 4 tablespoons of monounsaturated fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts and nut oils
- About 2 teaspoons of polyunsaturated oils such as cod liver oil, flax oil, evening primrose oil, blackcurrant oil or borage oil
In total, the calories should add up to around 2,600 for both a pregnant and nursing mother. If your diet has enough of the foods above and in the right proportions, it should prevent constipation.
The Aborigines, First Nation Native Americans and Eskimos all praised eating enough fats to help keep the bowels moving. Their diets were low in carbohydrates, but as long as they had enough fats, it wasn't a problem. Do avoid heat processed oils such as rice bran, canola, rapeseed, soy, and oils labelled as ‘vegetable', as they are rife with carcinogens which cause cancer.
Breakfast can be the hardest meal of the day to break out of the wheat cycle. Here are 13 delicious and healthy breakfast ideas.
If you eat grains or products made from flour, the grain products should be whole grain and as fresh as possible.
It's vitally important to eat fruits and vegetables with the skins rather than peeling, with the exception of bananas, oranges and other similar plants. The skin of the fruit or vegetable is where most of the vitamins are located. The skin also contains a lot of fibre which helps to move the bowels more easily, especially in fruits like apples, and vegetables like carrots and potatoes. If you don't buy organic fruit and veg (which is ideal) you should scrub the fruit and vegetables before eating their skin.
Probiotics are bacteria that are helpful to the digestive system. They make sure that food gets broken down properly. If you have been on medication such as antibiotics, you may have depleted your guts natural bacteria, which can cause constipation. Even if you haven't been taking medication, you should take a natural probiotic everyday for your gut health. You can buy them in supplement for from your health food store, or you can take naturally fermented foods every day such as:
- Natural yoghurt
- Lacto-fermented pickles
11 Great Tips To Help Beat Constipation During Pregnancy
If you are already suffering from constipation and you need a quick fix, here are some natural remedies which should do the trick.
- 1: When you get up in the morning, drink a glass of warm water with lemon.
- 2: Take a tablespoon of coconut oil or olive oil before each meal. The oil which help soften and lubricate the stool.
- 3: Until you clear your bowels limit your meals to fresh fruits such as apples and pears with skins , soups, salad vegetables like grated carrots with skins, nuts, seeds like sunflower and pumpkin and legumes such as black beans and chick peas (think hummous), and other easily digested protein such as eggs. Once your bowels have cleared you can go back to a more varied diet with meat etc.
- 4: Go for a long walk (or a repetitive walk close to the toilet).
- 5: Take a glass of warm water or herbal tea with a tablespoon full of psyllium husks before going to bed. Psyllium husks are a natural fibre which will move through your digestive tract and soften your stool.
- 6: Stew on the stove half a cup of dried fruits such as apricots or prunes with a cupful of water. Cook till the fruit is soft and then mash it and eat the whole thing including liquids in the morning before eating anything else.
- 7: Have a tablespoon of molasses and raw honey every day.
- 8: Take a probiotic daily.
- 9: Avoid caffeinated drinks. Although they might help move the bowel initially, because they are diuretic, they compound the problem by causing dehydration. Diuretics can be dangerous in pregnancy.
- 10: Go to the toilet when you have the urge, don't put it off.
- 11: To ease the stool passing, rub some organic oil (e.g. virgin coconut oil) on your bottom area. Where to buy coconut oil? Check out virgin coconut oil on Amazon.
Drinking enough water (ideally filtered to get out the nasties) and having enough exercise are also important for keeping your bowels going. If you can go for a walk every day (even for 20 minutes), this can help quite a bit.