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It's bad enough that you're pooped (as in tired all the time) — now you can't poop (as in constipated all the time). And as a result, you're bloated, gassy, majorly miserable, chronically cranky — and desperate for relief (and success on the toilet). Irregular bowel movements unfortunately plague some women during pregnancy but bypass others altogether. (Guess which team you want to be on?)
What causes pregnancy constipation?
Once again, it's your pregnancy hormones wreaking havoc as they cause the muscles in your bowels to relax on the job — making them sluggish and allowing food to hang around longer in the digestive tract. The upside: There's added time for nutrients to be absorbed into your bloodstream, allowing more of them to reach your baby.
Hormones aren't the only culprits in your colon congestion. Your expanding uterus (which will continue to expand as the weeks go by) takes up valuable space normally occupied by your bowel, giving it less room to go about its business. What's more, the iron-containing prenatal vitamins you're faithfully taking might also be contributing to the clog – but stopping them is a bad idea, for you and your baby (in fact, your practitioner will likely advise that you take an additional iron supplement once you hit the halfway mark of your pregnancy).
What you need to know
This, too, shall pass (pun intended) – but you don't have to resign yourself to nine months of misery. There are plenty of tactics to try to ease the problem and in the effort, avoid the company of constipation's dreaded sidekick, hemorrhoids .
What you can do
- Rough things up. Fiber-rich foods (aka roughage) will help you eliminate waste — it's that simple. Eat whole-grain cereals and breads, legumes (peas and beans), fresh fruits and veggies (raw or lightly cooked — preferably with skin left on) and dried fruits. Going for the green can also help you go — not only in the form of green vegetables, but in a juicy, sweet kiwi, a tiny fruit that packs a potent laxative effect. Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day (you can read food labels if you want, but there's no need to do the math — just choose lots of high fiber foods). And while you’re at it, be sure to shun those classic cloggers, refined grains (white bread, white rice, refined cereals and pasta). Sample from this fiber-rich and tasty menu to get started.
- Pace yourself. Don't plunge right into a fiber-rich diet if you're not used to it – go from zero to 35 grams quickly and you'll pay the price in gas and bloating. Instead, wade in slowly — add some fiber to every meal (steamed broccoli and brown rice with your chicken), but don't overload on it (steamed broccoli, brown rice, a salad, a
heaping bowl of beans — and prunes for dessert). Give your body a chance to get used to your new friends.
- Don't max out at mealtime. Big meals can overtax your digestive tract, leading to traffic jams. Try eating six mini-meals a day rather than three large ones — you'll also experience less gas and bloating .
- Drink up. Eight full glasses of fluids (water, vegetable or fruit juice, broth etc.) each day will keep solids moving through your digestive tract at an impressive rate and keep your stool soft (and easier to pass). That geriatric favorite, prune juice, is tops in the category, since it's a mild laxative. Try to drink some when you're really clogged, and if you have trouble taking it straight, blend it with other fruits and juices into a smoothie. Another time-honored way to get things moving: Turn to warm liquids, including that health spa staple, hot water and lemon. They'll help stimulate peristalsis, those intestinal contractions that help you go.
- Schedule toilet time. If possible, try to be in the vicinity of a bathroom after mealtimes so you won't feel rushed when the mood strikes. For example, if you know you need to leave for work at 8 a.m. eat your fiber and/or drink your prune juice by 7. If you're heading out for the evening, you might wait until you get home before you down a bag of apricots.
- Consider your supplements and medications carefully. Ironically, many of the supplements that do a pregnant body good (prenatal vitamins, calcium, and iron supplements) can exacerbate constipation. Ditto every pregnant woman's best buddy, antacids. So check with your practitioner about alternatives (such as slow-release iron supplements ) or adjustments in dosages until the situation improves.
- Don't just sit there — do something! Regular exercise during pregnancy encourages regular bowel movements. Even just a ten-minute walk might get you going — so consider munching on a handful of nuts and raisins and then taking a brisk stroll as soon as you wake up.