Feeling bloated and constipated is more than uncomfortable. It can also cause hemorrhoids. On its own, pregnancy increases your risk of swollen veins around your rectum. "But if your stool is uncomfortable to pass and you're straining to do so, it can make hemorrhoids worse," says Dr. Brasner, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City, and author of Advice from a Pregnant Obstetrician (Hyperion. "This is serious, because they can be with you for life."
An estimated 20 to 50 percent of pregnant women experience constipation, partly because of high levels of progesterone. "This hormone causes the muscles in the wall of the bowel to relax so they're not making the contractions needed to help move things along," says Dr. Rabin, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and women's health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City. "Plus, as your pregnancy progresses, your uterus enlarges and presses down on your bowels, which can slow their ability to empty." Yet another culprit may be the iron in your prenatal vitamin or the iron supplement you may be taking because of anemia. Lastly, giving up caffeine, which naturally keeps the bowels moving, can be another cause of constipation.
A diet loaded with fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and bran cereal will help keep your digestive tract working well. Just make sure to add fiber to your diet gradually; consuming a lot of it suddenly can make you gassy. To get your body used to it, eat fiber-rich foods throughout the day.
Dehydration can cause your stool to be hard, which makes it difficult to pass through your GI tract. You also need more water when you boost your fiber intake. Aim for the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses a day.
You don't have to do any major sweating here; a brisk walk can promote movement in your bowels.
If you're taking an iron supplement for pregnancy-induced anemia, ask your physician about taking a stool softener as well.
Originally published in the October 2007 issue of American Baby magazine.
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