Most women are prone to constipation throughout their pregnancy. Early in pregnancy you can again blame pregnancy hormones, which slow the movement of food through your intestines. In physiologic jargon, this change is called decreased gastrointestinal motility. The slower passage of food and fluid allows more fluid to be absorbed (perhaps another one of nature’s ways of ensuring that you get the necessary fluids into your system). The combination of reduced motility of the intestines and firmer waste products (since more fluid has been absorbed) contributes to constipation. In later pregnancy, the pressure of your enlarging uterus on the large intestine further hinders the passage of stools. The good news is you can outwit this uncomfortable effect of your hormones by eating foods that increase the water content of your bowel movements and foods that naturally travel faster through your intestines.
1. Increase fiber. Fiber (“roughage”) passes through your intestines undigested and acts like a sponge, soaking up fluid. Increased fluid helps your stools move faster. It also helps you to pass them more easily. Include more:
- Fruits, especially prunes, pears, figs, and apricots
- Vegetables, especially crunchy vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, and celery
- Psyllium (a natural bran-like stool softener, available at nutrition stores)
- Whole grains, such as 100 percent bran and multi-grain bread
- Legumes, beans, and peas
2. Increase fluids. If you increase the fiber in your diet, you must correspondingly increase the volume of fluids; too much fiber and too little fluid can actually aggravate constipation by making your stools even firmer. If you love juice, switch to nectar (prune, pear, apricot), which is not only high in water, but also higher in fiber than plain juice. But make sure to get an additional six to eight glasses of water a day, too.
3. Increase exercise. Getting your whole body moving gets your intestines moving. Regular exercise seems to keep all your physiologic systems more regular, and your intestines are no exception.
4. Obey your urges. One of the conveniences of modern living is that people are seldom more than a few steps from a bathroom, but busy pregnant women may not take the time to empty their bowels when their intestines tell them to. As with most of your body’s communication systems, however, unanswered signals soon lose their communication value. When you need to go, go; otherwise, your intestinal muscles get lazy, the signals get weaker, and constipation gets worse. (For more information see “Fiber”)