If you’ve ever been constipated, you’ll know that no matter how young or old you are, this condition is just no fun!  And it can be difficult for moms-to-be to deal with this problem, too!  Read on to find out more about what so many pregnant women get constipated — and what they can do about it!

Why is Constipation a Problem for Pregnant Women?

Anyone can get constipated — in other words, can get problems with not going to the bathroom often enough or having hard, painful stools when they do go.  And there are many reasons for this medical problem that vary from one patient to another.

One reason pregnant women tend to get constipated more is because of the hormonal changes that take place in their bodies while they are carrying a baby.  One big change that takes place is a dramatic increase in the levels of their progesterone.  Progesterone tends to relax the muscles throughout the body — and some of those muscles are the ones that push food through the digestive system after you eat.  When these muscles get relaxed, digestion slows down. In one way this is good: it allows a woman’s body to get all the nutrients it can from the food to help the growing baby. But this slower movement can also cause constipation.

Another important change in a woman’s body, of course, is the growing size of the baby. As the baby gets bigger, it takes up LOTS of room and sometimes it can press on the intestines and rectum and make it harder to go to the bathroom as well.  This only gets worse as the pregnancy goes on and the baby gets bigger and bigger.

How Can Pregnant Women Treat Constipation?

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to treating constipation in pregnant women. The good news is that there are a lot of lifestyle changes and home remedies that women can try to help ease this problem. The bad news is that they cannot take many over-the-counter laxatives due to their pregnant status.

Home remedies/lifestyle changes to treat constipation in pregnant women include:

  • Drinking LOTS of water. This helps to keep stools soft and easier to pass; it makes digestion, in general, easier as well.  Many doctors recommend that pregnant women try to get 8-10 glasses of water or other liquids a day to stay hydrated.
  • Drinking prune juice. While this might not be the best-tasting juice in the world, it can help to naturally relieve constipation and make it easier to go to the bathroom.
  • Eating a high-fiber diet. The fiber in the diet will bulk up stools and make it easier to go to the bathroom, too.  Good choices for a high fiber diet include most fruits (with the exception of apples and bananas), vegetables and whole grains.
  • Taking a fiber supplement to help increase fiber in the diet (with the doctor’s approval).
  • Scheduling regular trips to the bathroom throughout the day (such as after meals) and not ignoring the “call of nature”.
  • Using a stool softener such as docusate sodium. A stool softener (which as the name implies actually prevents stools from getting hard) is not the same things as a laxative (which stimulates the muscles in the intestines and colon to make them have a bowel movement). Stool softeners are generally considered safe to use during pregnancy.
  • Exercising regularly. Unless the doctor has ordered bed rest, women need to exercise gently but regularly throughout their pregnancy. This activity can make digestion easier and faster and help prevent constipation naturally.
  • Using probiotics, which are the healthy bacteria that live in the human digestive tract and help the body to break down the food that you eat. They can be taken as a supplement or women can eat probiotic-rich foods like yogurt instead.

What Should Pregnant Women Avoid to Treat Constipation?

There are also things that pregnant women should avoid when they are trying to stay regular. These include:

  • Some foods like apples, bananas and rice that tend to slow down bowel movements
  • Stimulant laxatives that work on the muscles of the intestines in order to make them have a bowel movement.
  • Big meals. Small, frequent meals are much easier on the digestive system when a woman is pregnant.
  • Highly processed foods, especially those with white flour or sugar. These can also lead to constipation problems.

Do You Have to Call the Doctor about Constipation?

Most of the time, constipation is something that women can treat at home, with the tips listed above. Sometimes, though, women should call their doctor, especially if they are having:

  • Problems with both constipation and diarrhea (that sounds pretty weird, but it can happen!)
  • Really bad abdominal pain.
  • Mucus or blood in their stool when they go to the bathroom.

In these cases, constipation can be a sign of another health problem and the doctor will want to do a physical exam and possibly run tests to find out what is going on.

The good news is that staying active, eating healthy and drinking plenty of fluids can really help take care of this problem and make sure that a woman stays as comfortable as possible even as the pregnancy advances.