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Constipation During Pregnancy: Causes and Relief

By Marisa Cohen
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
December 18, 2023
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You may know the feeling: You’ve got to go, but nothing’s happening. It can be uncomfortable and frustrating to be constipated.

Constipation, which is generally defined as having three or fewer bowel movements per week, is very common during pregnancy, says Alex Robles, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in New York City.

About 40% of pregnant people may experience that uncomfortable stopped-up feeling.

Causes & Symptoms of Constipation During Pregnancy

The main culprit for pregnancy constipation is the pregnancy hormone progesterone.

“Progesterone can slow down gut motility and also decrease the muscle contractions in the colon, which is basically what allows the stool to be propelled forward,” Robles explains.

Constipation can start as early as your first trimester, though it becomes more common as your pregnancy progresses.

The slower your food moves through your gut, the more moisture is absorbed in the colon, which makes the stool harder. Solid stool is more difficult to expel.

Robles also points out that the iron in prenatal vitamins can also cause constipation for some people. If you’re having a lot of difficulty with bowel movements, you might want to talk to your doctor about whether it makes sense to switch to a vitamin with less iron.

In addition to those factors, you may become constipated during pregnancy simply because you’re physically slowing down—you may be walking or exercising less than you did before you were pregnant.

If you’ve developed food aversions, you may also have a hard time stomaching fiber-rich foods such as broccoli and carrots, which are known to help prevent constipation.

How to Relieve Constipation During Pregnancy

Constipation can become a problem if you’re straining to go to the bathroom, since that could cause you to develop hemorrhoids, Robles says. These are inflamed, swollen blood vessels in the rectum and anus that can itch, bleed, and be painful. If this happens to you, see your doctor, who can diagnose the problem and recommend treatments.

Meanwhile, here are a few remedies and things that you can do to get your bowels back on track.

Drink a Lot of Water

Pregnant people require extra hydration, and drinking at least 8 to 12 cups of water per day can help keep your stool soft.

Always carrying a water bottle can make it more convenient to sip throughout the day. Not a fan of good old H2O? Hydrate with caffeine-free tea, juice diluted with water, citrus water (citrus fruit soaked in water overnight), or low-fat milk.

Move Around

Physical activity helps prevent constipation. Simply walking for 20 to 30 minutes three times a week can help get things moving.

There are some yoga poses that may help too, including squatting pose and child’s pose.

Using the wall for support, squat down, keeping your weight in your heels, your shoulders back, and your neck long, Inna Melamed, Pharm.D., a functional medicine practitioner specializing in gut health, suggests.

In child’s pose, slowly and deeply inhale and exhale for at least eight breaths, Jeni Rector, a certified midwife at the Village Midwife and Birth Center, in Newport News, Virginia, says.

“Literally any exercise can help relieve constipation,” Rector says. Even standing and twisting at the waist can be effective.

Make Sure There’s Plenty of Fiber In Your Diet

Eating fiber-rich foods helps soften stool and increase its bulk. This can help you avoid straining when you go to the bathroom.

Fruits such as bananas, apples, and raspberries are great sources of fiber, as well as green, leafy vegetables, peas, beans and lentils, whole-wheat pasta, and popcorn.

Add a Fiber Supplement

If you’re having trouble getting enough fiber on your plate, consider taking an over-the-counter supplement, such as one with psyllium, suggests Tara Scott, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn and medical director at Forum Health, in Akron, Ohio. She notes that these types of constipation treatments are safe to take during pregnancy.

Switch Positions to Relieve Constipation Pain and Discomfort

Try different positions to relieve constipation during pregnancy.

Lie on your left side with your knees bent to help promote bowel movement and relieve constipation pain during pregnancy. Rector says that you can also rub your belly in clockwise circles.

While sitting on the toilet, raise your knees by placing your feet on a small stool. Rest your elbows on your knees and lean forward, Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn who practices in Orlando, says. This position can provide constipation relief during pregnancy by better aligning the digestive system for easier bowel movements.

Take a Stool Softener

Colace (docusate sodium) and Surfak (docusate calcium) can be effective pregnancy stool softeners for pregnancy. They moisten the stool, making it easier to pass.

These pregnancy-safe stool softeners are available over the counter, but it’s still a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking anything. They can help you decide what to take for constipation during pregnancy.

Talk to Your Doctor About a Laxative

Scott also recommends asking your doctor about pregnancy-safe herbal teas, such as Smooth Move, which contains the natural laxative senna. Milk of Magnesia and Miralax are other over-the-counter laxatives that can be effective if needed. The key is to know you have options.

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