Firstly, if you get constipation in pregnancy, do not worry. It’s a pretty common problem! The good news is relieving constipation can be easily managed through a healthy diet – and the changes you might need to make aren’t that big.
Why am I constipated?
Firstly, hormones – yes, so much can be blamed on hormones! An increased level of progesterone in your system relaxes the smooth muscle in your intestines. Intestinal contractions are responsible for moving food waste through your bowels, so when the muscles relax everything slows down. See Understanding your pregnancy hormones, Common pregnancy symptoms for more information.
Secondly, you may be one of many pregnant women who has been prescribed iron supplements. These can cause some digestive discomfort. Finally, in the later months of your pregnancy your uterus rests on your rectum and can make the colon and bowel work more slowly.
It is really important that you poo regularly (ideally once or twice a day). If you don’t the waste that your liver has worked hard to remove from your body will be reabsorbed into your blood stream leading to nausea, sluggishness and headaches etc. Plus, waiting too long can make you feel uncomfortable – and the next time you need to poo, the harder it is to do so.
Did you know? If left untreated constipation can lead to varicose veins!
The good news is that this pregnancy symptom is easy to sort out! Just follow these simple steps and you can expect relief within a few days without resorting to over-the-counter medications, unless you have been prescribed them by your GP.
Drink plenty of water!
Growing a baby is a water-intensive exercise! So in pregnancy, you need to drink more water than usual. If you aren’t drinking enough fluids then your colon will desperately try to absorb all water from your digestive tract leaving hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass.
To prevent this try to increase your water intake by two glasses per day in the form of pure water or herbal tea. See foods to restrict in pregnancy.
Eat fibre-rich foods
Increase the amount of fibre in your diet, by eating plenty of fruits, raw vegetables and gel-forming fibres, such as:
- Brown rice
- Oat bran
- Oat porridge
These provide bulk in the digestive tract to help get rid of the toxins from your system.
Pulses and legumes (beans and lentils) are rich in fibre, minerals and proteins. Why not add them to casseroles and soups or eat them cold with cold pressed oils (extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil, for example) as an alternative to salads.
If you currently don’t eat much fibre, start introducing it gradually. If you’re not used to it, and in large quantities, fibre can cause bloating which may make you more uncomfortable.
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
The government’s five-a-day recommendation didn’t come about because five portions are the ideal amount of fruit and vegetables for us to eat. It was chosen because it’s a lot more than most people get and it’s not so high that people won’t even try to reach this goal.
Do you manage to get 5-a-day?
If not, start by trying to hit this target.
If you do, why not try to increase to seven-a-day? You’ll feel better for it, and it’s not that hard to do:
- A green juice is 3 portions
- Eat fruit with your breakfast (a handful of blueberries on your cereal for example)
- Eat fruit and vegetables for snacks (humus and carrot sticks)
- Include at least one portion of vegetables with lunch and dinner
- Have a side salad – it’s 1-2 portions
Some good snack choices are apples, any dried fruit and bananas. If you can, try to go for organic.
Oil yourself up
Not literally! Cooking oils help to lubricate the intestines and relieve constipation. It’s important to choose oils that don’t oxidize quickly if you are cooking as heat can turn a healthy oil into a toxic one.
- Use coconut oil for cooking at high temperatures (like stir fries) as it is highly resistant to heat and retains its powerful health benefits.
- Extra virgin olive oil is also a good option for cooking, just don’t let the pan get smoking hot.
- For salad dressings use flaxseed and hempseed oil with extra virgin olive oil. You can increase your usual consumption of any of these oils by around 2 tablespoons a day without worrying about the calories.
Read more about the healthy oils and which to cook with here.
When we are active, so are our bowels! If you’re sat at a desk for long periods of time, try to get up at least once an hour. Or go for a walk at lunchtime.
Drink prune juice
You don’t have to wait until things get bad to use this tip but be warned that prune juice is very effective at relieving constipation quickly – so be careful!
One cup in the morning after a large glass of water should get things moving. If it doesn’t work on the first day then take one cup in the morning and one after lunch on day two.
Information provided by Bump and Beyond Nutrition