Unfortunately, constipation is common both during pregnancy and postpartum. It can occur at any stage of your pregnancy, as well as following the delivery of your baby with many contributing factors at play.
Constipation is even more uncomfortable during pregnancy or after you give birth with the added weight of the baby and the discomforts of both vaginal and caesarean births. Luckily, there are safe over-the-counter medications you can use to help find relief and also reduce the risk for constipation.
Causes of Constipation During Pregnancy
The most common causes of constipation during pregnancy include:
- Hormones: As your hormone levels change in the early months of pregnancy it slows down the progress of stool moving through your bowels. As a result, stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass.
- Iron in Prenatal Vitamins: The iron needed during pregnancy can cause stools to become harder and darker.
- Pressure: As your pregnancy progresses, your uterus grows, putting pressure on the bowel. This makes it more difficult to move stool through to the rectum.
You might also be eating differently whether it is better or worse, which can cause constipation.
Cause of Postpartum Constipation
Following the birth of your baby, you can experience postpartum constipation. This can often be caused by a fear of straining or pushing during bowel movements due to stitches from vaginal or caesarean delivery. If you do this, you can keep more stool in your system, which causes it to become dry and hardened. This leads to constipation.
You will also still be carrying extra weight, although the weight of your baby is no longer a factor. Weight gain places pressure on your rectum which can increase the risk for hemorrhoids during pregnancy which can aggravate constipation. Damage to your anal sphincter muscles during vaginal birth can make it difficult to pass stool. Combined with a lack of sleep and adjusting to the stress of being a new mother, postpartum constipation is very common. Other issues include:
- Poor diet
- Poor hydration
- Restrictions during breastfeeding such as no caffeine
- Less exercise while you heal
- Pain medications
- Postnatal vitamins
Self-care is very important as a new mother, both for your own health and the health of your baby. Healthy habits including ensuring you eat properly and drink enough water are crucial for breastfeeding moms.
Symptoms of Constipation
Constipation can cause less frequent bowel movements leading to bloating and stomach discomfort. If you find your stools are dry and harder to pass, or that you feel like you still have stool that needs to come out following a bowel movement, you are likely constipated.
How to Treat Constipation Naturally
During pregnancy finding natural ways to ease constipation and encourage bowel movements are often preferred. This is also important when breastfeeding. Some dependable home remedies include:
- Increased Fibre: Hopefully you are already eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This can help your body maintain a more efficient process to keep bowel movements healthy. You can also speak to your doctor about taking a fibre supplement if you are unable to tolerate more fibrous foods in your diet.
- Drink More Water: Water helps keep stool soft, so it is easier to pass. You should drink at least eight glasses a day.
- Exercise: While it can be difficult to remain active during pregnancy, or following giving birth, it is an important way to avoid constipation. Even taking a walk can help. During pregnancy, ask your doctor about local fitness classes ideal for pregnancy. Following the birth of your baby, be sure you follow your doctor’s recommendations to avoid damaging your stitches.
- Probiotics: Your gut contains healthy bacteria for proper function. You can enjoy more foods high in probiotics such as sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi, as well as yogurt. Keep in mind too much dairy can cause constipation, so ask your doctor about how much you need for a healthy pregnancy and while you are breastfeeding.
These remedies will both keep you more regular and help provide relief when you are constipated. However, if constipation continues, speak to your doctor.
Safe Constipation Treatments During and After Pregnancy
Consult your doctor about using safe stool softeners. Stool softeners add water to the stool to help make it softer and more comfortable to pass. The stool softener that doctors most commonly recommend to pregnant women is docusate, which is the active ingredient in Colace.
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