Constipation during pregnancy: It’s a pain in the arse!

If you’ve ever had it really badly, you’ll know what a pain in the er, bum, constipation can be. Many women – as many as 40% – suffer from constipation during pregnancy, but there are various things you can do to help.

What is it?

The pregnancy hormones coursing through your body can cause your digestive system to become more sluggish – partly, it is thought, to eke out even more nutrients from the food you put into your body, to aid the very complicated process of growing a baby.

The muscles in your bowel can also become more relaxed, and this makes it harder to pass stools. Combine that with the increasing pressure your growing uterus is putting on your bowel and, pretty soon, things start getting bunged up.

The longer constipation goes on for, the trickier it can be to solve the problem and get everything moving again. It’s a vicious circle, the longer the faeces remains inside (sorry, were you having your lunch?), the more water from it gets reabsorbed into the body, and the more the stools become hard and very uncomfortable to expel.

What can I do?

Let’s start with prevention. Eating enough fibre and drinking enough water are the two most important things you can do to stop becoming constipated in the first place.

Gentle exercise can also help – it wakes up the system and gets the bowels working – so have a 10 minute walk a couple of times a day.

If you have never had a particularly fibre-rich diet, start working those foods (whole grains, fruits and vegetables) in slowly. Suddenly overdosing on brown rice and dried apricots might lead to uncomfortable wind.

Be sure to drink at least 1.5 litres of fluid a day – have lots of plain water, but also include fruit and vegetable juices (prune juice in particular is known to aid constipation naturally).

Yogurts and drinks containing probiotics and prebiotics might give your digestive system a kick start because they encourage a more efficient breakdown of food.

If you have been taking an iron supplement for anaemia, it might be contributing to your constipation because, while it’s been helping with your lethargy, it might have also been upsetting the balance of your gut flora. Speak to your midwife and ask if she can recommend an alternative iron supplement to try.

Pay attention to the times when you feel the urge to go to the loo, and make sure you are near a toilet because holding back can make things worse. Give yourself time, don’t force yourself too much (straining can contribute to haemorrhoids, or piles), and try to relax. If you have toddlers or young children in the house, you’ll just have to leave the bathroom door open!

If none of the above ideas seem to be working, then you should get yourself to the doctor. Your GP will speak to you about your diet and lifestyle and, if they think you are doing everything right, they might prescribe a gentle laxative to offer some relief. It’s not advisable to buy laxatives over the counter when pregnant without getting some advice first, because some products might not be suitable for you.

Once things start moving, if you follow the advice above, it should be easier to keep constipation at bay.