Constipation and other bowel problems affect 72 percent of pregnant women. Here's how to handle it.

By Jennifer D'Angelo Friedman and Michele Bender
Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

Feeling a flutter or two in your belly lately? It's not necessarily your baby kicking. Nearly three out of four pregnant women experience constipation, diarrhea, or other bowel disorders during their pregnancies. Ick!

Feeling bloated and constipated is not only uncomfortable, but 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."

Here's how to manage and prevent constipation in pregnancy. 

What Causes Pregnancy Constipation?

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.

How to Manage Pregnancy Constipation

If constipation is your issue, there are a few ways to get things, er, moving along. Here are some tips from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)'s consumer pregnancy book, Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month.

1. Drink plenty of liquids, especially water and prune juice or other fruit juices.

2. Eat high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grain bread, and bran cereal. Aim for about 25 grams each day. (A Loyola study found that pregnant women consume only 16 to 17 grams of fiber per day; the current guideline on Dietary Reference Intakes published by the US Food and Nutrition Board recommends 28 grams per day of total fiber in pregnant women.)

3. Walk or do another safe exercise every day.

4. Try eating smaller meals more frequently.

5. In addition, Graziano says stool softeners and suppositories are safe for pregnant women if needed (but talk to your health care provider first).

Here's the good news: bowel problems don't really affect a pregnant woman's quality of life all that much, according to the study. But if you've been spending more (or less) time in the bathroom than usual lately, at least you know you're not alone!

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