Many factors conspire to make constipation a pregnancy problem. For one, progesterone slows down the intestine muscles, causing things to move slowly through your system (so you might also feel gassy and bloated). Your baby puts pressure on your rectum as well. An increased blood supply means you need a lot more fluid, so you can easily get dehydrated. Finally, the iron in your prenatal vitamin may be constipating, too.
To add insult to injury, constipation can lead to straining during bowel movements -- and hemorrhoids, which occur when the blood vessels around the rectum become enlarged, itchy, and painful. You may even notice slight rectal bleeding -- your doctor can confirm if it's from hemorrhoids. If you're prone to dilated veins (like varicose veins), you're more likely to get hemorrhoids, says Dr. Daftary. Also, if you had hemorrhoids during a previous pregnancy, they'll be quicker to reappear. "It's a repetitive injury," Dr. Daftary says.
Most women return to regularity after delivery, but constipation may linger for some. If you're breastfeeding, remember to keep drinking extra fluid. If you've had a cesarean section, it may take longer to get regular too: One of the common side effects of narcotic pain relievers is constipation. It can also occur as a result of recovering in bed.
Fiber is your best defense, because it holds on to water and helps things pass through the intestine. Add fiber-rich foods such as a cereal, fruits, vegetables, and beans to your diet. If you can't get your fill from food, try fiber supplements. Finally, exercise is known to boost bowel motility.
If lifestyle changes aren't working, ask your doctor about over-the-counter stool softeners like Colace. (Steer clear of laxatives during pregnancy; they can cause an electrolyte imbalance.) For hemorrhoids, medicated pads and creams like Tucks and Preparation H are safe.