Everyone has an “issue" during pregnancy - that one symptom or side effect that nags at you for ten months. The most common complaints include nausea, unending fatigue, uncomfortable heartburn, or a soul-crushing sluggish colon. As you may have guessed, I experienced the latter….
During pregnancy, digestion slows down, way down. Not only are your intestines being physically displaced, but the increased hormone progesterone acts as a smooth muscle relaxant making regular contracting motions slower and less effective. Thus making it harder to move stool through the colon. Your body does this in order to properly nourish the baby and avoid bypassing his/her needs - pretty cool… for the baby.
My hope is that the tricks I’ve learned will you help you avoid this particular “issue”. If you are already prone to constipation, it is a good idea to brace yourself.
How To Manage Constipation During Pregnancy (or anytime!):
1) Hydration is key. If you are pregnant and constipated, water is your best friend. Water (some believe warm water, specifically) can help kick start a sluggish bowel. If you choose to add fiber to your diet, water becomes even more necessary since you need to increase fluid intake even more with fiber.
2) Two magical words: Stool Softeners. Stool softeners are NOT the same thing as laxatives. They shouldn’t entice your bowels to contract or give you that crampy feeling you get from laxatives. They simply pull water into your colon to help make the stool softer and more efficient as it moves comfortably through your digestive system . I prefer taking the supplement in capsule or tablet form with 1-2 full glasses of water. I recommend 200-300mg per day of the active ingredient - ducosate sodium, look for it on the back label.. Although it is suggested you take it at bedtime, I personally take it around 6 pm. It takes about twelve hours to kick in and you need to drink a lot of water after. Play with timing and you’ll find what works best for you.
3) Eat prunes and other sources of insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber particularly helps with constipation. Try to include at least 2-3 sources a day. Some of my favorite sources: blackberries, beans, bran, bulgur, coconut, cashews, fruit with the skin (apples, pears), figs, lentils, prunes, quinoa, spinach, raisins, and raspberries.
4) Say yes to healthy bacteria! Taking a daily supplement and/or food source containing healthy bacteria will help your digestion and your immune system immensely. As for food sources, include fermented and cultured foods. If you choose to add a supplement, Nutrition Now PB8 (pictured), Jarrow Dophilus EPS, Nature’s Bounty Ultra Probiotic 10, or Ultimate Flora Adult are my go-to recommendations.
5) Don’t just sit there - squat! It’s been proven that squatting on the toilet streamlines defecation (makes it easier for stool to move through your digestive system) and reduces hemorrhoid risk. Check the research for yourself, or better yet, give it a try!
6) Drink hot teas. Gentle teas like peppermint and ginger can be enjoyed on a daily basis, but sometimes laxative teas come in handy. Get Regular by Yogi or Smooth Move by Traditional Medicinals use herbal laxatives that aid in contracting your bowels. Do not use for more than 2-3 days at time.
7) Sometimes you just need a salad. Make sure to buy a variety of dark leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables, and chew well to avoid bloat.
8) Iron Be Gone! Most ,if not all, prenatal vitamins have iron. Unfortunately, iron is constipating, especially in the amount provided during pregnancy, which can be up to three times more than the recommended intake! If you are suffering from constipation, make sure to choose Gentle Iron (usually the active ingredient is Iron Glycinate).
9) Magnesium. This mineral aids in drawing extra water into your bowels stimulating peristalsis (bowel contractions). I didn’t find it very helpful, but some people swear by it. I would suggest starting with 250-300mg.
10) Last resort: avoid grains. Even though some grains have a ton of fiber, they can also be very binding. Avoid grains, breads, and cereals for a bit and only include legumes (beans and lentils) for a few days. Most importantly, listen to your body and how you feel.