According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, about a third of pregnant women suffer from constipation in the last trimester (IFFGD, 2012). In another study reported by Loyola University Medical Center (May 2013) , nearly 3 out of 4 pregnant women experience constipation, diarrhea or other bowel disorders during their pregnancies.
Upwards to a third of pregnant women experience increased constipation, particularly during the last trimester. Many women report increased heartburn and nausea in the first trimester, and another third of women report an increase in stool frequency during pregnancy. Changes in the ovarian hormones, which are elevated during pregnancy, and the physical pressure the growing baby places on the bowel wall, may both contribute to GI symptoms. For many women, pregnancy is a time of heightened stress and this may exacerbate underlying anxiety and depression, which can lead to a vicious cycle of increasing GI symptoms and increasing stress. For example, increased progesterone levels affect the smooth muscles in the intestines. Consequently, it takes longer for food to move through the intestines, which can cause constipation. Vitamins and calcium and iron supplements that women take during pregnancy also can cause constipation.
Majority of women avoid drug therapy as a solution for IBS, especially during pregnancy. Women should avoid using herbal therapies for IBS symptoms because many remain untested. Talk to your doctor before using any medicine while pregnant.
- Pregnant women should consume plenty of fiber. The Loyola study found that pregnant women consume only 16 to 17 grams of fiber per day, while the recommended level for pregnant women and other adults is 25 to 30 grams per day. The current guideline on Dietary Reference Intakes published by the US Food and Nutrition Board recommends 28 grams per day of total fiber in pregnant women.
- Maintain adequate fluid intake. Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of plain water a day.
- Try eating smaller meals more frequent.
- Reduce intake of of gas-producing foods (e.g., beans, cabbage, legumes, cauliflower, broccoli, lentils, and Brussels sprouts) to reduce abdominal discomfort.
- Consume a moderate amount of foods higher in sorbitol, such as dried plums and prune juice.
- Try ground flaxseed. It can be sprinkled on salads and cooked vegetables.
- Get as much exercise as you can.
- In case of constipation, stool softeners and suppositories are safe for pregnant women, according to Graziano, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Discuss with your doctor the use of any medications or supplements before taking them.