Constipation is common in pregnancy because the hormone progesterone relaxes the smooth muscle in the bowels, making them sluggish. Up to 40% of pregnant women become constipated.
What is constipation?
Everyone's bowel habits vary from time to time. Being constipated is when you have fewer than three bowel movements per week, you have hard and lumpy bowel movements or you have to strain to go.
It's common in pregnancy because of the hormonal changes in your body, and can be worse if you need to take iron supplements.
Prevention is better than cure - these tips should help.
- Make sure your diet is high in fibre: fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Look at the fibre content on your food packaging - the recommended amount is 20-35g per day. A good way to get this is with bran-based breakfast cereals.
- Drink plenty of water, herb teas and fruit juices to keep hydrated - this is especially important if you're eating bran.
- Avoid over-refined and junk food as much as you can.
- Take some exercise every day. This needn't be energetic - regular walks will help.
If the worst comes to the worst, and you do become constipated, there is still quite a lot you can do to help yourself.
There's a lot you can do to relieve constipation. Keep on following the advice above, and try these tips too.
- Start the day with a cup of hot water and lemon or herb tea - this in itself might be enough to kick-start the bowels. Morning is a good time for a bowel movement because the gut, inactive overnight, is stimulated by food and drink. Try going about half an hour after breakfast.
- Take your time when you go to the lavatory, and make sure you are private, warm and comfortable. Constipation can be a problem when life is busy.
- As soon as you feel the need to have a bowel movement, always go to the lavatory straight away.
- Try to avoid straining, which increases the risk of haemorrhoids (piles) - you are more at risk of these when pregnant anyway.
- If you are doing pregnancy yoga, some postures may be particularly beneficial. Check with your pregnancy yoga teacher.
If you're still constipated, talk to your pharmacist about medicines you could try. Some laxatives are OK to take in pregnancy. These include bulk-forming laxatives, lactulose or macrogol. If these don't work a glycerol suppository may be the answer.
Take advice from your midwife, doctor or pharmacist.
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