Constipation and pregnancy: What to know

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Nicola Galan
by Holly Ernst, PA-C
Causes | Home remedies | Other treatments | Complications | When to see a doctor

is a very common symptom that many women experience during pregnancy.
Some women have constipation
at an early stage of their pregnancy, while it does not affect other women
until much later on.
In this article, we explain
why constipation is common in pregnancy and discuss safe treatments and home
remedies that women can use to relieve the discomfort.
The cause of constipation
during pregnancy depends on the stage at which it occurs. Possible causes

  • Hormones: Changing hormone
    levels in early pregnancy cause the intestines to slow down the movement of
    stool through the bowel. This delay increases the amount of water that the
    colon absorbs from the stool, which makes it more solid and difficult to pass.

  • Prenatal vitamins: Prenatal
    vitamins are chock-full of iron, a crucial mineral that can sometimes be
    deficient during pregnancy. Iron can cause constipation and hard, black stools.
  • Pressure from the uterus: In
    later pregnancy, the growing uterus can put pressure on the bowel, making it
    harder to move stool through the intestines.
In addition to infrequent
bowel movements, constipation can cause bloating, stomach discomfort, and hard,
dry stools that are painful to pass. It can also result in a feeling that not
all the stool has passed.
Constipation can be
particularly uncomfortable during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, women can
often relieve constipation using gentle, safe home remedies:

  • Fiber: Taking fiber
    supplements or eating more fibrous foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole
    grains, can increase the number of stools and facilitate their passage through
    the intestines. Adults should eat between 28 and 34 grams of fiber each day.
  • Fluid: Drinking enough water
    is important to keep stool soft and easy to pass. If a person feels that water
    is not helping, they can try adding clear soups, teas, and naturally sweetened
    fruit or vegetable juices to their diet.
  • Activity: Being active helps
    stool move through the intestines. Getting regular exercise, with a doctor’s
    approval, can help relieve constipation. If exercising is not a priority or
    possibility, try to fit in a gentle walk each day.
  • Probiotics: Millions of
    healthy bacteria live in the gut and help it function correctly. Probiotics may
    help repopulate the gut bacteria with healthy strains that encourage normal and
    regular bowel movements. Foods high in probiotics include yogurt, sauerkraut,
    and kimchi.
If the home remedies above do
not work, it may be time to discuss other options with a doctor.
For women taking prenatal
vitamins that are high in iron, doctors may recommend trying a vitamin that
contains less iron.
The primary medical treatment
for constipation in pregnancy is a medication called a laxative, which makes it
easier and more comfortable to go to the bathroom.
It is generally safe to use
gentle laxatives, but it is best to avoid stimulant laxatives because they can
induce uterine contractions.
Although many laxatives are
available over the counter, it is important to check with a doctor which one is
safe to use. Limited information is available about using some of these
medications during pregnancy.
Women can usually safely use
the following types of laxative during pregnancy:
Bulk-forming agents mimic
fiber by adding material to the stool and helping it absorb more water. By
doing this, they make the stool larger, softer, and easier to pass.
These types of laxative can
cause some cramping or discomfort, so people should start with the lowest
dosage and ensure that they drink lots of water.
Examples of bulk-forming agents
include psyllium, methylcellulose, and polycarbophil.
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 (Colace).
Lubricant laxatives add a
slippery coating to either the stool or the inside of the intestinal tract to
aid the passage of stool out of the body.
Glycerin suppositories are one
type of lubricant laxative. It is essential to always speak to a healthcare
professional before using suppositories, especially when pregnant.
By drawing more water into the
intestines, these laxatives help soften the stool. They also allow the bowel to
contract more to move the stool along. These types of laxative can also cause
cramping and bloating in the abdomen.
Examples of osmotic laxatives
include polyethylene glycol and magnesium hydroxide.
In most cases, constipation in
pregnancy is short-lived and resolves with no or minimal treatment. In rare
cases, however, prolonged constipation can cause fecal impaction, which may need
removal by a doctor.
Continued use of certain types
of laxative can cause the bowel to “forget” how to push stool through
the intestines.
These drugs can also cause
electrolyte or fluid imbalances in some people. Such issues usually affect
people who have other health problems, such as diabetes or kidney disease.
It is best to speak to a
doctor about the types of laxative to take and how often to take them.
to see a doctor
It is vital that pregnant
women speak with their doctor before taking any medication, including laxatives
or other constipation remedies.
Seeing a doctor is also
advisable if any additional symptoms occur, including:

  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • constipation that lasts for
    longer than 1–2 weeks
  • bleeding from the rectum
  • no relief after using a
As always, mention any other
symptoms or concerns to the doctor for more specific information and advice.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.