Monday, July 28, 2008

Pregnancy and the digestive tract

A question from a fellow pregnant lady:

"Hi Anna. I'm pregnant and due around the same time as you. In the last couple of weeks, I began to suffer from very infrequent bowel movements and an uncomfortable feeling in my lower belly. I knew this is a common problem during pregnancy, but somehow didn't think it would happen to me because I've never suffered from it. Are there any changes I can make in my diet in order to improve my condition?"

You're right - constipation is very common during pregnancy. This delicate problem isn't discussed often, yet many pregnant women find that it makes their life extremely uncomfortable. The hormonal changes in the pregnant woman's body make her bowels move more slowly, and the growing uterus puts pressure on the intestine - two major factors that contribute to constipation during pregnancy. Iron supplements might cause constipation as well. Also, some pregnant women often don't feel like eating much, if they are suffering from nausea, and accompanying tiredness may prevent regular exercise - add all this up, and you'll see that you shouldn't be surprised at all.

Without treatment, constipation can become chronic and cause hemorrhoids, which is not at all pleasant, to say the least. That's why you are wise to pay attention to this problem.

You probably know all the usual advice - eat a fiber-rich diet, drink plenty, try to exercise regularly if you can - and indeed it's all very important. I would encourage you not to use laxatives, which only provide temporary relief and don't solve the problem. There are some natural fiber supplements available, but I truly think that eating plenty of vegetables, whole grains and fruit in your diet is both healthier and more effective. Some foods are known to gently stimulate the bowel, such as prunes and ripe tomatoes.

I will also suggest a natural remedy, which my husband told me about a few weeks ago, when I noticed similar symptoms. In the morning, right after you get up, take a tablespoon of cold-pressed olive oil with 6-7 drops of natural lemon juice. Fresh squeezed lemon juice is the best, but bottled is alright too. It's important that you do this before you have eaten anything, and if you can hold off about an hour before you have your breakfast, that's great.

You might feel improvement within a few days, or a week or two - depends on how serious your condition is and how long you have been suffering from constipation. Don't be discouraged if you don't experience immediate relief - it isn't meant to act as a laxative, but rather as a sort of "booster" to your digestive system. I must admit I fail to explain how exactly it works, but it does. In any case, preserve in this practice daily for three months, and after that continue once a week as a preventive measure. It's perfectly safe and natural, and olive oil is good for you in other ways beside constipation relief.

I wish you a happy and easy pregnancy, and a healthy baby!


Kacie said...

Yes, definitely one of the unpleasant things about pregnancy. I'm dealing with it now myself, and have found that natural fiber supplements have helped me a bit.

It's not so terrible for me--I just wish I was regular like I was before!

One tidbit I read in pregnancy books and on message boards is that shortly after delivery, it might be a good idea to take a gentle stool softener for a time, especially while you are recovering.

PamelaK said...

Hi Anna!
Great ideas to stave off constipation, or alleviate it. I also wanted to add that a small glass of warm to mildly hot orange juice can work wonders to help an immediate problem.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
All the best for all you ladies who are pregnant. I find also that a lovely strong fresh cup of coffee is a good way of getting things moving :)

Beverly said...

Walking also helps get things moving (literally!) ... I suffered horrendous constipation with my first ... and hardly any with my second. The difference was primarily my level of physical activity. There seems to be a tendency among most women to "take it easy" during pregnancy ~ but we were made to stay active! It helps every facet of pregnancy and will help prepare your body for a smooth labor and delivery as well. A good hour long walk every morning helps enormously. :)

Anonymous said...

As a pregnant lady who is facing this too!! The thing I have found that works is cloudy pear juice. Drinking it regularly helps keep things as close to regular as you can in pregnancy although I have noticed that things have gotten worse the further along I get so I also take a fibre suppliment.

Anonymous said...

My doctor recommended Smooth Move herbal tea. It's an herbal tea with a very gentle stimulant (senna). It helped me tremendously. I still use it, as 2 years later I still have constipation issues sometimes. :)

Samara said...

I did a number of things to ward off pregnancy-specific issues and only suffered from it once during the pregnancy, before I started this regimen.

To ward off constipation: I ate a green salad at least once each day, with oil dressing. I drank a small glass of prune juice each morning, and walked at least a mile or two each day (my dog loved this).

To ward off UTIs: I drank a small glass of *unsweetened* cranberry juice each day, and at least a gallon of water a day.

It's also good to eat a probiotic such as yogurt each day, especially if a woman is prone to yeast problems.