Nearly three out of four women experience constipation and other bowel disorders during their pregnancies. Here’s how to handle it.

By Jennifer D'Angelo Friedman and Michele Bender
Updated April 30, 2020
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Noticing a flutter or two in your belly lately? It's not necessarily your baby kicking. Thanks to pregnancy hormones and an enlarged uterus, you might start feeling bloated, constipated, and generally uncomfortable. Constipation can also lead to hemorrhoids, another common side effect of pregnancy. Here's how to manage and prevent constipation while expecting. 

Causes of 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.

So when does constipation in pregnancy start? It can appear around the second or third month, and it may stick around until Baby makes an appearance. 

The Link Between Constipation and 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 Shari Brasner, M.D., 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." You can prevent pregnancy hemorrhoids by managing constipation, using the tips below. 

Constipation in Pregnancy Treatment and Prevention

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.

  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially water and prune juice or other fruit juices.
  • Eat high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grain bread, and bran cereal. Aim for about 25 grams each day.
  • Try eating smaller meals more frequently.

Here's the good news: bowel problems don't really affect a pregnant woman's quality of life all that much. 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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