Constipation is a fairly common bowel irregularity that is more often seen in women. It may be exacerbated or even start up in pregnancy for a number of reasons that are not applicable in women who are not pregnant. However, treating constipation during pregnancy needs to be done with caution – the safety of the fetus and the mother is paramount and the mother’s body may react differently to otherwise innocuous remedies. The complications of severe constipation and treatment of it can even adversely affect pregnancy. It is therefore imperative that pregnant women seek medical advice if constipated rather than waiting for it to pass or attempting to self medicate.
Constipation During Pregnancy
Constipation is defined simply as three or less bowel movements in a week with the passage of hard stools, straining during defecation and a feeling of incomplete bowel emptying after a movement. Not all women who are constipated will have every feature mentioned above and often constipation to the individual is seen as any reduction in frequency of bowel movement from the normal state.
Although constipation is the more common type of bowel irregularity in pregnancy, some woman may even experience diarrhea or periods of constipation interspersed with diarrhea. It is also not uncommon for women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to experience an exacerbation of their condition. As a general guideline, a women who experiences a change in bowel movement during pregnancy, even a minor change, should seek medical advice if this is causing discomfort.
Causes of Constipation in Pregnancy
Constipation is a symptom, not a disease, that is associated with slower bowel activity, reduced water and fiber intake or abnormal contraction of the anal sphincters. The causes of constipation in woman who are not pregnant is not significantly different from that in a pregnant woman. However, the changes in the hormone levels in pregnancy and the growing uterus may contribute to constipation to a greater extent than in non-pregnant women. Certain nutritional supplements used in higher doses during pregnancy may also contribute to constipation. Lack of physical activity is another factor that is more prominent in the later stages of pregnancy.
Treatment and Remedies
Simple dietary changes are often effective in most cases, if not for totally resolving the constipation, then at least for providing significant relief. Increasing water intake and eating high fiber foods including fruits and vegetables is usually sufficient. Although the amount of physical activity may be reduced with pregnancy, walking and swimming are two activities that do not put significant strain on the back and joints and is still effective.
Medication should be avoided as far as possible. Laxatives can be used but should only be considered after consulting with a doctor. Certain laxatives, including herbal laxatives, can cause contractions and should be avoided as far as possible. Reduce the intake of aluminimum-containing antacids for heartburn as these often cause or aggravate constipation. Any other medication that has been prescribed by a doctor should not be discontinued without first seeking medical advice.