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Smooth Sailing: 6 Ways to Relieve Constipation During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a journey filled with excitement and joy, but let’s get real – it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Along with the excitement of feeling your baby’s kicks and the anticipation of holding them in your arms, there’s also a not-so-glamorous side including stretch marks, morning sickness and an occasional unwelcome guest called constipation.

Getting constipated is common during pregnancy. “Constipation is as high as 44% in the second trimester and 36% in the third trimester,” said Karen Rodeffer-Evans, MD, an OBGYN with Banner Health. “It can also continue into the postpartum period (after pregnancy).”

Fear not, though! While it is something commonly shared by many during pregnancy, constipation doesn’t have to slow you down. With the help of Dr. Rodeffer-Evans, we share what contributes to constipation in pregnancy and ways to get things moving smoothly.

Why does constipation happen during pregnancy?

There are many things that can lead to constipation. But when it comes to pregnancy constipation, you can mostly blame it on pregnancy hormones. “Increased levels of progesterone can affect digestion and slow bowel movements,” Dr. Rodeffer-Evans said. 

Your expanding uterus also puts added pressure on your rectum and bowel, cramping the usual flow of business. 

Along with difficulty trying to poop, constipation can also cause symptoms like uncomfortable bloating, passing gas (farting), hard, small stools and light cramping. 

Straining to go and spending too much time on the toilet can also increase your risk for another not-so-fun issue: hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the rectum and anus that can cause discomfort and bleeding. 

The upside is that constipation, while not so fun for you, won’t harm your baby. However, it’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider if you pass blood or mucus or if you have severe stomach cramping along with constipation. 

Six ways to relieve constipation during pregnancy

Here are some simple, practical tips for finding relief and possibly avoiding constipation altogether:

Drink plenty of water

Let’s start with the basics – water, water, water! Staying hydrated is important for maintaining healthy digestion, especially during pregnancy. 

“When the body needs water, it will remove it from the colon, which will make the stool harder,” Dr. Rodeffer-Evans said. “Pregnant people need 50% more water than they usually drink.”

Drinking water can help keep constipation at bay, lower your core body temperature and may also help with morning sickness. Aim for about 12 eight-ounce glasses (96 fluid ounces or approximately three liters) a day.

Add more fiber

Fiber is your friend when it comes to battling constipation. You should have at least 35 to 45 grams of fiber each day. Load up on fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes. Sneak them into your meals and snacks for an added fiber boost. 

Get moving

Regular exercise during pregnancy can help reduce constipation. 

“Exercise aids in the peristalsis (the rhythmic squeezing and relaxing of muscles in the digestive tract that moves food and waste through your system) that moves the gut,” Dr. Rodeffer-Evans said. 

A daily walk, prenatal yoga or swimming can help get things moving without overdoing it, but talk to your provider first for suitable exercise options during pregnancy.

Fill up on probiotics

Probiotics in yogurt and supplements promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, aiding digestion. Check with your provider before adding probiotics to your routine, especially if you are considering supplements.

Reduce your iron intake

You need extra iron during pregnancy, but excess iron can cause constipation. If you are taking iron supplements and are constipated, mention it to your provider during your next prenatal appointment. They may suggest changes to your supplements, adding in more iron-rich foods or other strategies.

Ask your provider about stool softeners and laxatives

Not all laxatives and stool softeners are safe during pregnancy. Harsh or stimulant laxatives can cause dehydration and potentially lead to uterine contractions. 

“If a laxative is needed, then something like Milk of Magnesia or Dulcolax is safe to take during pregnancy,” Dr. Rodeffer-Evans said.

Stool softeners help moisten your bowels, so they are easier to pass. Your provider may recommend a stool softener, like docusate sodium (Colace) or docusate calcium (Surfak), to help.

Bottom line

Pregnancy is a remarkable journey filled with joy, anticipation and, yes, a few bumps along the way. Constipation may be a temporary companion, but with a combination of plenty of water, fiber, exercise and other adjustments, you can hopefully bid it farewell.

Remember, every pregnancy is unique. Talk to your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist for personalized advice to ensure that any changes to your routine are safe for you and your baby. 

For more pregnancy-related articles, check out:

Gastroenterology Pregnancy Women's Health