Pregnancy is a time of big change in a woman’s body. Along with the many joys of pregnancy comes a host of pregnancy side effects such as bowel changes.
The three most common bowel issues experienced during pregnancy are constipation, diarrhea and hemorrhoids. These symptoms are also some of the first signs reported by newly pregnant women. According to a study conducted by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Loyola University Chicago, 72 percent of pregnant women reported at least one bowel issue during their first trimester. These issues include, but are not limited to bloating, diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Sixty-one percent of the women studied were still reporting these bowel changes in the third trimester.
Bowel Change Causes:
Why are these changes such a common occurrence? The initial culprit is normally a spike in pregnancy hormones. The sudden and constant change in a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels during pregnancy contribute to fluctuations in normal bowel habits. Prenatal vitamins can also be a contributing factor because iron (known to cause constipation) is found in much higher levels in prenatal vitamins, as opposed to a standard multi-vitamin. As a woman progresses through pregnancy, her eating habits change to nourish a growing baby. The body’s natural reaction to a fluctuation in eating patterns can often manifest itself as a change in bowel movements. It is also normal for the bowel to be displaced as the pregnancy progresses to later stages and the uterus continues to grow bigger. This shift in the bowel placement can cause changes to a normal bowel cycle.
There are many natural remedies available to help stave off constipation. The primary recommendation is to eat a high fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables and beans, aiming for at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day. Setting up a regular exercise routine incorporating activities such as walking and swimming can help stimulate the bowels. Drinking plenty of fluids can assist in triggering the bowels as well. Prune juice can be an especially effective stimulant. It is also important to not delay going to the bathroom as this can exacerbate the constipation issues.
Most cases of diarrhea will resolve on its own within a few days. The primary worry of diarrhea is dehydration, so it is important to continue drinking plenty of liquids. Drinks with electrolytes and clear broth are especially helpful because the electrolytes in these liquids will help to replenish low sodium and potassium levels. Avoiding problematic foods such as fried and spicy foods, dairy and high-fat foods can also help to reduce instances of diarrhea. It is advised to contact your doctor if diarrhea does not clear up after a few days. Do not take an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication without consulting your health-care provider.
Diarrhea during the third trimester is very common, especially as labor approaches. This is the body’s natural way of preparing for labor and should not be a concern.
Hemorrhoids are swollen (varicose) veins of the rectum. This painful condition is usually the result of constipation and increased pressure on the perineum and rectum due to a growing uterus. Fortunately, there are a lot of remedies to relieve this discomfort including warm baking soda baths, Tucks Medicated Pads and witch hazel to combat swelling and bleeding. Placing dry or wet baking soda on the affected areas can assist in reducing uncomfortable itching symptoms. You should also avoid sitting and standing for long periods of time, and do regular pelvic floor exercises to prevent hemorrhoids. Most pregnancy-induced hemorrhoids will be relieved after the baby is born.
Although these changes in bowel habits can be a nuisance, they rarely indicate a serious problem for the mother or baby. However, do not hesitate to contact your health-care provider should you have any questions or concerns.