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How to prevent or relieve constipation during pregnancy?

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By : Nurturing Life's Nutrition Team | Montreal Diet Dispensary
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Increasing the intake of fiber and water, doing more physical activity and adopting a bowel routine can help prevent or relieve constipation.

Constipation is a common discomfort in pregnant women. This discomfort is often the result of hormones produced during that period that slow transit (movement) and increase intestinal water absorption.

Constipation is defined by stool that is dry (hard) and difficult to evacuate, not by low frequency of evacuation. Thus, a woman who has a bowel movement every two days but easily evacuates loose stools does not suffer from constipation.

In some women, iron supplementation may contribute to constipation. This can cause the woman to stop taking iron, which is strongly discouraged in the presence of anemia. To reduce or avoid constipation, certain measures can be taken to encourage good intestinal transit.

FIBERS

Insoluble fiber is waterlogged in the intestine which gives bulk to the stool and stimulates their passage through the digestive tract. They are found in the following foods: wheat bran, whole grain foods, vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes (kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.) .

Soluble fiber attracts water in the stool and forms a gel. It is a prebiotic, that is to say, it serves as food for the good bacteria in the intestine, called probiotics, which promotes intestinal regularity. The main sources of soluble fiber are: oat cereal and oat bran, barley, pectin-rich fruits (apples, citrus fruits, strawberries, pears, etc.), vegetables (asparagus, beans, green peas, Brussel sprouts, carrots, etc.), flaxseed, chia seeds and legumes.

At the Dispensary, ground flax seed is also used for mothers to reduce constipation, at 1 to 2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) per day, taken with 150 ml of water or incorporated to oatmeal, cereal or yogurt, for example. However, flaxseed should be avoided in the presence of some gastrointestinal problems (eg irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease).

Warning! It is important to gradually increase the intake of fibers in combination with an increase in water intake. In fact, the increase in fiber intake results in an increase in stool volume. However, if there is not a good source of water, the stool will be dry and hard, which will exacerbate constipation. Clear urine during the day is the best sign that indicates good hydration.

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Physical activity helps increase bowel movements. In pregnant women, it is recommended to do 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity at least 3 to 4 days a week if there are no contraindications. It is important to gradually increase the intensity and duration of physical activity according to the condition. For more information on physical activity during pregnancy, see the following article.

ADOPT A BOWEL ROUTINE

Some behaviors help maintain regular bowel movements, such as developing a routine to defecate: sit on the toilet (although initially no urge is felt) every day at the same hour after a meal and never refrain yourself when the need arises.

CONSTIPATION RELATED TO IRON SUPPLEMENT

If constipation seems to be connected to the iron supplement, the above strategies also help with this side effect. These strategies must be attempted instead of stopping the supplement. Promoting better iron absorption can also reduce gastrointestinal symptoms related to the supplement. For more information, see the following article.

If all these measures are not sufficient, before turning to laxatives, it is essential to consult a doctor.

References

  • Bradley, C.S., Kennedy, C.M., Turcea, A.M., Rao, S.S.C. et Nygaard, I.E. (2007) Constipation in pregnancy. Prevalence, Symptoms and Risk Factors. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 110(6), 1351-1357.
  • Cullen, G. et O’Donoghue, D. (2007) Constipation and pregnancy. Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 21(5), 807-818.
  • Derbyshire, E., Davies, J., Costarelli, V., Dettmar, P. (2006) Diet, physical inactivity and the prevalence of constipation throughout and after pregnancy. Maternal and Child Nutrition, 2(3), 127-134.
  • Gibson, G. R., Roberfroid, M. B. (1995). Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: introducing the concept of prebiotics. Journal of Nutrition, 125(6), 1401-12.
  • Hamza, O.B., Barbeau, C. et Caponi, É. (2000). Femmes enceintes. Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec.

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The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the official views of the Public Health Agency of Canada.