Your bowel/intestinal tract slows down in pregnancy due to hormonal changes and is thought to be, in part, to increase the absorption of nutrients from your food for the developing baby (1) This may cause more water to be absorbed out of the stool in your intestinal tract causing constipation. Sometimes increasing the iron content of your diet or taking a vitamin with iron can also slow things down and cause constipation. The cure for constipation is fiber, fluid and exercise. You need all three to help the bowel function at its best.
Fiber includes, whole grains (for example, the first ingredient on a food label says whole oats, whole wheat, whole “something”). Fresh fruit and vegetables contain fiber, cooked fruits and vegetables contain fiber also, just usually not as much as the fresh versions. Fiber supplements can also be sources of fiber.
Fluid–no matter how much fiber you put into your diet, it will not help constipation unless you DRINK enough fluid. 8-10 cups (approx. 2 liters) are encouraged of mainly water. (2) The more fluids you drink the more fluid is available in the bowel to help make the stool softer. You want your urine to be clear or light yellow. This means your hydrated. If it is dark yellow or orange you aren’t drinking enough–you are probably dehydrated. So remember to drink!
Exercise also helps constipation, because it helps the walls of the intestinal tract to do their work of pushing things out. A process called peristalsis. So move as much as you are physically able. (3)
- Wilson, WH, Lowdermilk, P, Maternal Child Nursing Care, 3rd edition, St. Louis, MO, Mosby, 2006 p 250.
- Mahan, KL, Escott-Stump, S, Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy, 12th edition, Saunders Elsevier, 2008, pp 180-82.
- Position of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics: Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome, J. Acad of Nutr & Dietetics, 2014, 114:1100.