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How to Ease Constipation in Pregnancy

Feeling a bit plugged up? It’s a common complaint among moms-to-be. Here’s what you can do to get some relief.
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Updated
December 14, 2021
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Struggling to go to the bathroom is never particularly pleasant, but constipation in pregnancy comes with its own special set of challenges—especially if you’re not feeling your best to begin with.

Constipation, which is defined as having less than three bowel movements a week and/or having trouble passing stool when you do go, is fairly common in pregnancy, says Michael Cackovic, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. And while constipation in pregnancy won’t hurt baby, it can make you feel pretty uncomfortable.

If you’re having trouble going “number two” while pregnant, know this: You’re not the only one. Here’s how to cope when you have constipation during pregnancy—and why you’re dealing with it in the first place.

Is Constipation a Sign of Pregnancy?

Constipation in early pregnancy is common, so experiencing it regularly could offer a clue that you’re expecting. But for the majority of women, it’s probably not the first or most obvious sign of pregnancy, says Julie Lamppa, CNM RN, a nurse-midwife at the Mayo Clinic. But if you’ve been trying to conceive and suddenly notice that you’re having poop problems around the time your period is due, it might be a tip-off.

What Causes Constipation in Pregnancy?

Wondering why you’re suddenly not going quite as much? A lot of it comes down to those pesky (but necessary) pregnancy hormones. “The increase in progesterone levels plays a big part in causing constipation in the first trimester,” says Lamppa. As progesterone increases during your pregnancy, it “leads to slower-moving intestines,” explains Jessica Shepherd, MD, an ob-gyn and the founder of Sanctum Med + Wellness in Dallas, Texas. “This means slower digestion, which can lead to constipation.”

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Other factors, like the presence of iron in most prenatal vitamins (a mineral that has been linked to constipation) and not drinking enough water to meet your growing needs, can perpetuate the problem, says Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando, Florida. What’s more, if you’re experiencing morning sickness, and coping with a limited diet of binding foods (crackers, toast, cereal, etc.), it can further block you up.

When Does Constipation in Pregnancy Start?

Constipation in pregnancy can begin early and continue for months. “It can start in the first trimester and even continue for days or weeks after the birth,” Lamppa says. But don’t worry, having early constipation in pregnancy doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be plugged up for months on end. “Often, women will find that it can wax and wane—or they get good control with their diet, activity, supplements or medications,” Lamppa says.

How to Find Pregnancy Constipation Relief

Got that sluggish feeling in your gut? If you’re tired of sitting on the toilet with little reward, there are a few things you can do to get relief and hopefully kick things into gear again. Below, a few options to try.

What can pregnant women take for constipation?

Pregnancy constipation pain can be uncomfortable. If you’re wondering what over-the-counter options you can take, the good news is that stool softeners are generally considered a safe and effective option, Greves says. These medications help add moisture to your stool and make it easier to pass. Still, talk to your doctor before using any medication or supplement in pregnancy. One treatment option you should avoid altogether is laxatives; Greves notes that these can cause dehydration.

Home remedies for constipation during pregnancy

If you’d rather not take a stool softener or your doctor has hesitations, rest assured there are a few ways to try to relieve constipation during pregnancy at home without medication. These include:

  • Upping your fiber intake. Fiber helps increase the weight and size of your poop while also softening it, making it easier to pass, according to the Mayo Clinic. “One delicious way to do this is to blend your favorite fruits and vegetables—frozen or fresh—into a smoothie,” Lamppa says. “Give it a bigger boost by adding some chia seeds.”

  • Drinking more water. It’s important to make sure you’re adequately hydrated while pregnant. This can help regulate many bodily functions, including your ability to poop. What’s more, water can soften stools, making them easier to pass, Greves says.

  • Getting more exercise. Being active can help move things along in your intestines as well. “Increasing physical activity such as walking and low-impact exercise can be beneficial,” Cackovic says.

  • Switching up your prenatal vitamin. “You may want to take a break from the typical prenatal vitamin that contains iron, which can cause constipation to worsen,” Lamppa says. “Using a prenatal gummy that’s iron-free for a while may help.” But she adds this caveat: “You don’t want to do this for the entire pregnancy because supplemental iron is important.”

Ways to Prevent Constipation in Pregnancy

The best way to prevent constipation in pregnancy is to be proactive in your approach to living healthier. “Incorporate fiber into your diet, drink lots of water each day and exercise,” Lamppa says. Greves also recommends trying to eat more frequent, smaller meals instead of larger ones. Bigger meals, she explains, “can be harder to process and could increase your risk of constipation.”

When to Call the Doctor

If you’ve tried everything and you’re still struggling or it’s been a few days since you’ve actually been able to poop, Greves says it’s probably time to check in with your doctor or midwife. It’s not taboo to talk about poop (or a lack thereof). And, trust us, once baby comes, it’ll become a regular part of your vernacular. Consider this practice.

Constipation in pregnancy is par for the course—it’s one of the many not-so-enjoyable consequences of those surging hormones. So if you’re having a hard time, remember that this too shall pass (quite literally). Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way to get immediate constipation relief during pregnancy, but incorporating some healthy habits into your routine can help get things going again. Of course, don’t hesitate to reach out to your OB or midwife if you think there’s a problem.

About the experts:

Michael Cackovic, MD, is an ob-gyn and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He received his medical degree from MCP Hahnemann University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Christine Greves, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando, Florida. She received her medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine where she also completed her residency.

Julie Lamppa, CNM, RN is a certified nurse-midwife at the Mayo Clinic.

Jessica Shepherd, MD, is the founder of Sanctum Med + Wellness in Dallas, Texas. She is also the founder of Her Viewpoint, an online women’s health forum focused on addressing taboo topics in a casual and approachable setting.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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