How does pregnancy affect gut motility?
Pregnancy causes a lot of changes in a woman's body, including an increase in the hormone progesterone. Rising levels of this hormone can slow down gut motility, which is how fast your food and stool move through your intestinal tract. This slowdown can lead to constipation, or trouble passing a bowel movement. It may also mean you don't have as many bowel movements as normal.
What is constipation during pregnancy?
Constipation is a common complaint of women who are pregnant. It affects up to 38% of women at some point during their pregnancy. Constipation can be painful and negatively affect your quality of life. It can also lead to physical problems like hemorrhoids if you don't treat it.
Symptoms of constipation during pregnancy
Symptoms of constipation can include any of the following:
- Infrequent bowel movements
- Abdominal pain
- Hard, lumpy, or dry stool
- A feeling like all of your stool hasn't passed
- Excessive straining to have a bowel movement
Causes of constipation during pregnancy
If you are experiencing constipation during pregnancy, it may be a result of one of the following potential causes:
- Hormone changes in pregnancy
- Reduced activity in pregnancy
- Iron supplementation
- The baby pressing on the intestines
- Not enough fiber in your diet
Who can get constipation during pregnancy?
Any woman who is pregnant can experience constipation, but the following factors may increase your risk:
Treatments for constipation during pregnancy
Home remedies for constipation during pregnancy include lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications. The following treatments may help relieve constipation symptoms:
Increase dietary fiber and water
A diet that is low in fiber can contribute to constipation. The two types of dietary fiber are:
- Soluble Fiber, which blends with water in the intestines and forms a gel-like substance. This type of fiber helps control blood sugar.
- Insoluble Fiber, which passes through the intestines without being absorbed. It increases the size of your stool and can help you pass it more quickly.
Increasing the fiber in your diet should be the first step in treating constipation during pregnancy. Foods high in fiber include:
- Bran cereals
- Chia seeds
In addition to increasing fiber, increasing your water intake can help with constipation. Women who are pregnant should drink 10 8-ounce glasses of water daily.
A sedentary lifestyle increased the risk of constipation. Increasing your daily exercise can help with constipation. Walking more is one of the best ways to increase your exercise during your pregnancy. It is very low risk and can help with constipation.
There are several different types of laxatives that your doctor may suggest, including:
These laxatives work by increasing the weight of your stool, which makes it easier for the stool to pass through the digestive tract. They take two or three days to work. Your body will not absorb these bulk-forming laxatives, so they are considered safe for long-term use in pregnancy. They may have unwanted side effects such as bloating, gas, and cramping. They may not always be effective.
Lubricant laxatives such as mineral oil work by coating your stool and digestive tract with a waterproof layer. It keeps water in the stool which makes it softer and easier to pass.
Osmotic laxatives work by absorbing water into the bowel from surrounding tissues. This softens the stool and increases the action of your bowels. Prolonged use of osmotic laxatives can result in an electrolyte imbalance, which is when there is not a balance in the fluids inside and outside of the cells.
Stimulant laxatives act on the intestinal wall. They increase the muscle contractions of the intestines. They can have unpleasant side effects like cramping. Like osmotic laxatives, prolonged use of stimulant laxatives can cause an electrolyte imbalance.
Side effects of treatments for pregnancy constipation
Because all medications have side effects, you should try increasing fiber, water, and exercise before taking laxatives. If you do need laxatives, talk to your doctor about the best one for your condition. Once you start laxatives, it may take several months to wean off of them. You should only use osmotic and stimulant laxatives short-term.
Talk to your doctor about seeing a gastroenterologist if you have:
Pregnancy and Parenting Resources
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Cochrane: "Interventions for treating constipation in pregnancy."
Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Food Sources of Dietary Fiber."
Institute of Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate."
Mayo Clinic: "Laxative (Oral Route)."
The Obstetrician and Gynecologist: "Constipation in pregnancy."
PLoS One: "Epidemiology and Risk Factors of Functional Constipation in Pregnant Women."
National Health Service: "Laxatives."
Mayo Clinic: “Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet."
Privia Women's Health: "The Benefits of Walking During Pregnancy."