The early phase of pregnancy often known as the first trimester is a period that is marked by rapid changes in a woman's body. These physical and emotional changes can start even before the pregnancy test in confirmed. One such problem among pregnant women is constipation. Affecting around forty percent of pregnant women in the first and last trimesters of pregnancy, constipation in early pregnancy is caused by changes in your diet coupled with the hormonal changes in the body, and the pressure of the growing uterus on the rectum.
It results in the passage of small and hard bowel movements along with abdominal pain, fatigue and a feeling of fullness. Most of the time, this constipation is also accompanied by heartburn. This is because of the slower emptying of the stomach, that causes the release of increased stomach acid to aid digestion. Before we look at the ways to deal with it, let us first understand the causes of this pregnancy problem.
Causes of Early Pregnancy Constipation
Release of Progesterone Hormone
The primary cause of constipation in the early stages of pregnancy is the progesterone. This is a major hormone that plays a key role in pregnancy. It strengthens the cervix's mucosal lining, thus preventing unwanted infections that can harm fetus. It inhibits the uterus from having contractions, and also stimulates the milk producing glands in the body.
Unfortunately, high levels of progesterone also leads to certain side effects such as constipation. This is because the hormone relaxes smooth muscles like the intestinal muscles. The softening of these muscles along with decreased bowel movements slows down the passage of food, fluids and wastes, leading to constipation.
Prenatal Vitamins and Minerals
Prenatal vitamins and mineral supplements are essential before and during pregnancy. They contain some key nutrients like folic acid, calcium, iron and Omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the mother and the fetus. Iron supplements which are necessary for the keeping anemia at bay, and are needed for development of blood and muscle cells of the baby and the mother, can cause pregnancy constipation. In case the constipation caused by the intake of iron in the prenatal supplements is severe, it is best to consult a doctor.
Changes in Diet
The early phase of pregnancy is often accompanied by morning sickness which results in nausea and vomiting. The vomiting can lead to a reduction in the amount of fluid circulating in the body. This in turn affects the bowel function and leads to constipation. Moreover, certain foods like dairy products, refined flour and excessive intake of red meat can aggravate the constipation. High consumption of dehydrating fluids like caffeine, enriched tea, coffee and alcohol, or even a simple change in the dietary habits can lead to this gastrointestinal problem.
Lack of Exercise
The lack of adequate activity owing to factors like morning sickness, stress and fatigue can make the system sluggish. This can cause constipation. Avoid this by staying active and exercising regularly. Walking, and swimming are certain low-impact exercises that helps in regularizing the bowel movements and alleviating constipation. The simple, aerobic exercises increase the heart rate and breathing, and thus stimulate the functioning of the intestinal muscles. It is however, extremely important to consult a doctor before engaging in any physical activities and exercises that can cause a strain on the body.
Along with physical changes, a pregnant woman also has to deal with a lot of emotional upheavals in the course of pregnancy. Stress during pregnancy which may be related to the baby's well-being, financial security, relationships and the environment at home can lead to a number of health problems including constipation. Extreme stress levels are also associated with miscarriage in early pregnancy.
Symptoms of Constipation in Early Pregnancy
Constipation in early pregnancy is accompanied by certain characteristic symptoms. These include:
- Hard stools
- Painful elimination and bloating
- Mental Stress
- Fatigue and Sleeplessness
- Other Mental and Physical Problems
Dealing with Pregnancy Constipation
For treating the symptoms of constipation during pregnancy, try these simple tips.
A high-fiber diet is important, since, it pushes the intestines to work harder and absorbs liquid. This ensures that the feces do not dry out, but remain soft, which helps in eliminating waste matter easily from the body. A daily intake of 25 to 28 grams of fiber intake in a day is recommended during pregnancy. Foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole wheat bread, breakfast cereals, prunes and prune juice contain lots of fiber. Avoid large meals that can cause bloating and gas. Instead, have regular small meals to keep the hunger pangs and constipation away.
Drink Lots of Water
Pregnant women should drink at least six tumblers of fluid per day, to eliminate the possibility of constipation. Along with water, fresh fruit and vegetable juices, are very good.
Mild pregnancy exercises help in gently stimulating the bowel, which in turn leads to improved digestion. Rather than straining yourself, try walking or swimming for about 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week. This will aid in digestion, and also help in enhancing the general well-being and fitness, in preparation for the actual delivery.
Intake of Probiotic Foods
Probiotics refer to microorganisms that are similar to the good bacteria found in the human gut. The probiotic bacteria is found in fermented dairy products like yogurt and cheese. It helps in dealing with constipation and promotes a healthy gastrointestinal tract.
Although, constipation during pregnancy is not a severe problem, in case it is accompanied by abdominal pain, alternate bouts of diarrhea, passing of mucus or blood, then you need to call your doctor or midwife immediately. Avoid taking over-the-counter stool softeners and laxatives during pregnancy. Do not take natural laxatives like castor oil and other mineral-based oils without consulting a doctor first.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not, in any way, intend to replace the advice of a medical professional.