WHAT IS CONSTIPATION?
If you are not opening your bowels regularly (regularly for you), are straining on the toilet, passing hard, lumpy or pebble-like bowel motions, or feel like you haven’t fully passed everything (complete bowel evacuation), then you may be constipated.
WHY DOES IT OCCUR IN PREGNANCY?
Early in pregnancy, hormonal shifts such as increased progesterone may play a role. Progesterone will help to thicken your uterine wall for implantation. It will also slow your gastric transit time, meaning everything lags a little bit. Then later into pregnancy as baby grows, so does the pressure on organs, including the bowels – leading to constipation. Other factors such as excessive use of supplements (ie: iron), can also slow gastric transit time. This is why it is important to seek personalised healthcare advice when selecting a prenatal supplement.
Post birth, you may be in discomfort and recovering from tearing or surgery, or have haemorrhoids or prolapse. Constipation, straining and passing hard lumpy stools can increase this discomfort and pressure on your pelvic floor muscles. So nipping constipation in the bud early can get your symptoms under control before baby comes along.
HOW TO REDUCE CONSTIPATION
My top three tricks for reducing constipation include: 1. Fibre, 2. fluids and 3. movement. It is very important to seek a tailored regime just for you by your healthcare professional. The solution isn’t always to quickly increase too much fibre too fast, as this may cause uncomfortable gut symptoms.
Fibre is a wonderful (and under-valued) nutrient. It is a type of carbohydrate the body cannot digest. Guidelines recommend 25-30g fibre per day and most adults do not meet this (so it may be worth your time assessing how much fibre you are eating). Research is also suggesting more than 30g per day may be more beneficial, but for now – let’s focus on 30g.
Fibre works its way through your intestines, sweeping up other food particles on its way until it reaches the large intestine, where it helps to speed up and soften bowel movements. It’s important to eat a variety of fibre rich foods because there are different types of fibre – and you want them working synergistically for a happy poo.
Soluble fibre, like oats, barley, legumes, nuts and seeds and psyllium, will absorb water and help to soften the stool so it’s easier to pass.
Insoluble fibre, like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, is the roughage. It’s going to speed up the transit time (time from ingestion to large bowel) to help balance out sluggish intestines.
Resistance starch, like cooked and cooled potatoes, pasta, rice and green bananas, is a new(ish) player the fibre world. It’s an indigestible type carbohydrate which feeds your good gut bugs for overall gut health.
Good hydration during pregnancy and postpartum is essential, especially if breastfeeding. Australian guidelines recommend between 1.8 – 2.6L fluid per day for pregnant and lactating women. However, this will vary based on the climate, season and your activity levels – so it’s likely you may require more.
The evidence here is pretty clear, physical activity reduces constipation. And for most women, exercise is safe in pregnancy. It is however important to get the OK from your healthcare provider before undertaking strenuous physical activity during and post pregnancy.
TIPS TO BOOST DIETARY FIBRE
- Research has found eating 2 x kiwis can significantly reduce constipation
- Eat the skin on your fruits and veggies
- Add a tin of legumes to your pasta sauce
- Sprinkle mixed nuts and seeds over your breakfast cereal
- Throw a kiwi into your smoothie (skin-on)
- Switch to wholegrain bread
- Try a legume based pasta
HOW MUCH FIBRE IS IN THAT?
You will find dietary fibre information on the nutrition label of most foods you buy.
|A kiwi (with skin)||~4g|
|A bowl of oats||~4g|
|2 x slices grainy bread||~6g|
|1 serve kidney beans||~7g|
|Handful of almonds||~4g|
Want to know more?
Book a consultation to help relieve or prevent constipation during and after pregnancy.