Constipation During Pregnancy
Pregnancy brings many new feelings to a new mother. Mixed in with wonder at feeling your baby's first kick and seeing them at the first scan can be a whole myriad of physical complaints which can take the shine off things. Unfortunately, many of the medications which you might usually take to help ease these physical annoyances are off limits when you are pregnant.
One of the common problems that many mums-to-be suffer from is constipation, an unpleasant feeling when you are already feeling heavy in the tummy area from the baby weight. The reason why it occurs so frequency is because the balance of hormones changes within the body during pregnancy. This extra progesterone acts to both slow and relax the movement of the intestines, the very thing which is needed to generate a bowel movement. Added to the effect of the hormone is morning sickness. If the woman is unable to eat a balanced diet, or in some cases keep very little food down at all, constipation becomes even worse. What's more, for those women unable to sustain a good diet because of nausea and vomiting, iron tablets may be prescribed, which in itself can cause constipation. Even if you are lucky enough to escape the misery of constipation in the earlier months, as the pregnancy advances the increased weight can cause pelvic congestion leading to constipation.
Can it be treated?
One of the ways to treat constipation is by exercise or yoga, both of which stimulate the bowel partially by massaging it as you move. Whilst some exercise is strictly off limits from the moment you fall pregnant, there are many forms you can continue to enjoy until the later stages. Any kind of gentle exercise can help to get your bowels moving, but check it's OK with your doctor first, especially if you have not been active for a while. Swimming, walking or water-based pregnancy exercise classes are all good options, as is yoga.
For women that can manage to keep food down, a change in diet can help to give things a gentle nudge in the right direction. High fibre foods are the key to a better digestive system and as well as pulses, beans and wholegrains. There are a number of fruits and vegetables which also provide a good level of roughage as well as providing vitamin C. Citruses such as oranges and grapefruit as well as blackcurrants, apricots and prunes are all flavourful foods that will help give nature a hand. Salad items such as watercress and celery are good choices as is cabbage and spinach.
While bran is a good source of roughage, it can prevent absorption of key nutrients and can bulk up, making the problem worse if fluid intake is not significantly increased. Upping your fluid intake in general will help bowel movements, however, diuretics such as coffee, tea and cola will have the opposite effect. This is because they increase urination, therefore causing dehydration and in turn worsening any constipation.
Women who need to take an iron supplement may find their constipation eases if they switch to either a liquid supplement or by changing brand. Liquid supplements do not taste very nice but it might be worth it if the constipation is bad. Your doctor will be able to help you with either of these choices.
Are there any safe remedies?
For some women, these measures are enough to bring relief, but for problem constipation it may be necessary to try some tougher remedies.
Alternative therapies are a popular choice for many pregnant women, partly because they have little or no impact on the baby and also because conventional treatment is often not proven as safe.
Herbal drinks such as mallow or dandelion tea are safe for expectant mums and should help if drunk regularly. One of the herbal treatments commonly used for constipation, senna, is not recommended for pregnant women. Not all herbal drinks or supplements are advisable for pregnant women and some are said to cause miscarriage or premature labour if taken. It is therefore essential to get check the label, or even consult your doctor, before trying any other kind of supplement or drink from a health food shop.
Another self-help method worth giving a go is aromatherapy massage. Mixing a teaspoon of carrier oil such as grapeseed or sweet almond with a few drops of lemon, lime, grapefruit or bergamot essential oils will provide a relaxing blend. This can be added to bathwater. Also, a gentle clockwise massage might help encourage the gut to get moving. Firm pressure must be avoided and any woman who is at risk of premature labour or has a low lying placenta may want to give this a miss.
If you prefer to see a therapist, reflexology can be a relaxing experience for tired feet and can also help to stimulate the bowel. The therapist should take a detailed medical history before starting treatment. If this helps, an insider trick to help between treatments is to put two bottles on the floor, placing them under your foot arches and simply roll them back and forwards.
Acupuncture is another tried and tested treatment which is safe for pregnant women and can treat a whole range of psychological and physical ailments. It is, however, essential to find a registered practitioner as it is possible to contract diseases from poor practitioner hygiene. Acupuncture is becoming increasingly recommended by GPs so even if your own practice cannot offer this service, they may be able to recommend a local clinic.
One therapy which should not be tried during pregnancy is colonic irrigation. This involves a 'washing out' of the bowel and while it will ease the discomfort of constipation, it will change your pH levels and can cause harmful changes in bacteria levels in the lower colon. There is also an increased chance of a vaginal infections as well as the possibility of serious side-effects, such as a perforated rectum.
Constipation is not pleasant and while it may be common in pregnancy, you do not have to suffer in silence. If none of the above steps work for you, your GP can prescribe a laxative as a last resort which for some women brings much-needed relief.