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Constipation during pregnancy

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Constipation during pregnancy can begin as early as after conception and can continue till the end of the term. Relief from constipation has been quite a worry for all expectant mothers. Read on to find more about the causes behind this symptom and a few remedies and tips to keep the bowels moving during pregnancy.


Causes for Constipation during pregnancy

Hormonal Factors: The placenta produces a large amount of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy. This hormone relaxes the ligaments lining the intestinal walls and slows down the contractions that are required for the digested food to move through the body. This increases the time taken to digest the food. As the food stays for a longer while in the large intestine, most of the water in the digested food is absorbed making the stools dry and hence resulting in constipation.


Apart from this, pregnant women, who are hypothyroid, suffer from constipation due to the lack of adequate levels of T4 hormones in their body.


Physical Factors: As the pregnancy progresses, the fetus keeps growing and exerts pressure on the intestinal tracts further slowing down the digestion process and contributes to constipation during pregnancy. Lack of enough exercise to keep the bowels moving is another common factor inciting constipation.


Dietary Factors: Lack of adequate fiber and fluids also tend to cause constipation during pregnancy. Most expectant mothers tend to lose fluids due to nausea and morning sickness. This causes the feces to become hard and cause constipation. Excessive consumption of highly processed or refined carbohydrates also contributes to constipation during pregnancy.


Nutritional supplements: Pregnant women are prescribed oral dietary supplements to meet the nutritional needs of both the mother and the growing baby. Most of these dietary supplements tend to have iron and calcium. Excessive amounts of iron and calcium tend to interfere with the digestive system and trigger constipation during pregnancy.


Physiological Factors: Stress, high levels of anxiety and depression affect the nervous system directly, slowing down digestion and leading to constipation.


Symptoms of Constipation during Pregnancy

The symptoms that characterize constipation during pregnancy usually vary based on the severity of the condition. The most notable symptoms are the following:


  • Severe bloating and gas

  • Hard Stools

  • Fatigue

  • Heartburn

  • Lower abdominal pain

  • Difficulty in passing stools

  • Excessive straining in certain cases leads to a condition called hemorrhoids or piles in which veins of the anal muscles swell and bleed.

Treatment for constipation during pregnancy


Use of prescription medicines, over-the-counter laxatives are generally not encouraged by doctors to treat the discomfort caused by the symptom. However, they are left with no choice when the symptoms are severe.


Caution must be exercised while using laxatives as the digestive system gets dependent on them and the condition may persist even after pregnancy. Stool softeners, oral medication and bulk producing laxatives should only be used under the prescription of a doctor as they may contain elements which counter affects the growth of the fetus.


Bedridden pregnant women are prescribed the use of an apparatus called incentive spirometer which requires the patient to breathe into a mouthpiece and help in clearing the lungs and also aid in bowel movement.


Doctors usually recommend the following lifestyle changes to alleviate constipation before the onset of medical treatment.



Dietary Changes

  • Inclusion of adequate fiber in the diet is an absolute must to tackle constipation during pregnancy. This can be done by including fresh fruits, vegetables, cereals like oats and barley. Other uncommon sources of fiber are onions whose skins are sources of insoluble fiber and soybeans.

  • Consumption of fiber rich foods like dates, prunes, and figs on a regular basis helps in keeping the bowels moving. The colon uses the insoluble fiber in these foods to bulk up the stool during digestion and aids in preventing constipation during pregnancy.

  • Addition of ginger to foods can help in a two pronged way. It aids better digestion combating constipation and also helps in relieving nausea in pregnant women.

  • Avoid eating highly processed/refined foods and focus on eating only whole grains.

  • High fiber cookies can be used to nibble upon while on the go to increase fiber intake and avoiding constipation during pregnancy.

  • Intake of probiotic foods also helps in fighting against constipation as they soften stools and help in expelling waste from the body. They contain good bacteria and are usually found in yoghurt and other probiotic products available in the market.


Fluid Intake

  • Increased fluid intake is recommended during pregnancy to replenish the fluids that are lost by vomiting or nausea to keep the digestive system well hydrated and facilitate smooth movement of feces. Fluid intake also helps in preventing dehydration and dizziness in pregnant women.

  • Fluids in the form of water, fresh fruit and vegetable juices should be consumed through the day to tackle constipation during pregnancy. Ideally a pregnant woman should consume 3-4 liters of fluids mainly water to avoid constipation.

  • Tea, coffee and other diuretics like cola or any products containing caffeine should be avoided.


Exercise

  • Doctors recommend mild exercise to pregnant women for several reasons. Prominent among them are release of physical energy, increased feel good factor and better digestion caused by stimulation of digestive organs.

  • Forms like walking, swimming, Yoga are very beneficial in dealing with constipation during pregnancy.

  • The other forms of exercise which directly work on the pelvic muscles which are crucial for expelling waste are the Kegel exercises. They not only work on facilitating easy movement of stool but also help by strengthening pelvic muscles and help alleviate labor.


Other tips to avoid constipation during pregnancy

  • Do not procrastinate to attend to the call of nature. It is very vital not to delay going to the restroom to avoid constipation during pregnancy.

  • Ensure that the anal muscles are not too strained while trying to relieve yourself. Straining continuously for a long period can cause hemorrhoids.

  • A stool placed in the bathroom to elevate your legs while passing stools can help in reducing the strain

Always consult your doctor if the symptoms are too severe or if there is blood in the stools.


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Constipation during pregnancy

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