Are you wondering whether constipation is a sign of early pregnancy?
Perhaps you’re in the two-week wait and driving yourself crazy, constantly checking your symptoms.
Or maybe you’re hoping you aren’t pregnant but starting to feel a bit backed up.
Is constipation a sign of early pregnancy?
Although it isn’t talked about as often as other signs, constipation can be a symptom of early pregnancy.
About 50% of women say they suffered from constipation very early in pregnancy.
Get the facts about constipation in early pregnancy here.
What is constipation?
We’ve all heard about constipation and most of us have suffered from it at one time or another in our lives.
You probably think of constipation in terms of how frequently (or infrequently) you pass a stool.
But in fact, it relates to the consistency of the stool.
If you have constipation, your stool is hard and small.
Your large bowel reabsorbs water into the lining of the bowel.
If a stool stays in the bowel for too long, most or all of the water is reabsorbed.
This leaves the stool very hard. The large intestine’s job is to push the stool along the wall of the bowel towards the rectum.
If this doesn’t happen, the stool sits in the bowel for longer.
Constipation is caused by dry stool that isn’t being moved along effectively.
Constipation during early pregnancy
In the very early stages of pregnancy, hormone levels begin to surge.
One of the main hormones of pregnancy is progesterone.
Progesterone is produced by a woman’s ovaries and adrenal glands until the placenta is developed enough to take over the task.
One of the main actions of progesterone is to relax the smooth muscles of the uterus.
This prevents the body from expelling the pregnancy.
Progesterone also slows the movement of the intestine and bowel.
This means food takes longer to pass through. The longer the food is in the intestine, the more water is absorbed from the waste.
Constipation in early pregnancy before missed period
While you’re waiting for your period to show up (or not) it’s hard to resist checking all your symptoms for early signs of pregnancy.
Many early pregnancy symptoms are triggered by rising levels of progesterone.
During the second half of your menstrual cycle, progesterone levels rise in anticipation of a pregnancy.
However, if a fertilized egg doesn’t implant, progesterone levels drop again. That’s when your period begins.
If a fertilized egg implants, your body makes more progesterone straight away.
This is why many women experience constipation in early pregnancy, even before their missed period.
Other causes of constipation in early pregnancy
Progesterone is thought to be the main culprit for constipation during the early stages of pregnancy.
There are also other factors that contribute to slowed digestion.
Many women take a prenatal supplement that contains essential minerals such as iron.
Constipation is a known side effect of taking certain forms of iron.
You’re also likely to be more tired and lethargic in early pregnancy.
This means you move less, which slows down your digestion even more.
Can I prevent constipation in early pregnancy?
Whether you hope or suspect you’re pregnant, there’s plenty you can do to prevent constipation from becoming a problem.
And if constipation does happen, the same treatments used for its prevention can also act to limit its effects.
Things you can do:
- Increase your fluid intake
- Include plenty of vegetables and fruits in your daily diet, especially those containing magnesium and potassium, which help to move food through your intestine
- Exercise daily, even if you just go for a walk or a swim
- Reduce or remove iron supplements. Good nutrition can usually meet your iron needs during pregnancy. Alternatively, take smaller doses of iron throughout the day.
The combination of increased fluid and fiber should help keep your stool soft enough to pass through your bowel.
When you’re pregnant, fluid intake is important. Try to drink at least 2.5 liters of water per day.
You should avoid or limit drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks; they can increase dehydration.
Exercise has a whole host of benefits during pregnancy. If you’re not very active, now is as good a time as any to start exercising.
Being active helps your digestive motility, which refers to the speed your body digests food. Moderate exercise can help. This might be walking, swimming or cycling.
Talk to your care provider about your iron needs. Not all women need iron supplements. Find out more here.
Should I take laxatives for constipation in early pregnancy?
Have you tried all the above strategies with no relief? You could be tempted to try a laxative.
There are different kinds of laxatives, and they have different actions. The main types of laxatives are:
- Bulk-forming: help to reabsorb water into the bowel, increasing the size of the stool
- Stool softening: make the stool easier to pass
- Stimulant: speed up the movement of the stool through the intestines
- Lubricant: contain a mineral oil to make the stool slippery
- Osmotic: increase water in the intestines and soften the stool.
Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which type of laxative is safe to use during pregnancy.
Your care provider will most likely recommend a stool softening laxative first. This makes it easier for your digestive system to pass the stool. You should increase your fluid intake at the same time.
Stimulant laxatives, such as castor oil or other mineral-based oils, aren’t recommended for use during pregnancy.
Taken in extreme amounts, laxatives can over-stimulate the bowel and other organs, including the uterus. This can lead to cramping and contractions, which may cause premature labor.