A young pregnant woman dressed in white lounges on a white couch while holding a beverage on her belly.


Pregnancy is often one of the most joyous times in a woman’s life. However, the profound changes your body goes through to nurture a new life may cause some physical discomforts, including constipation.

When stool moves too slowly through the colon, the colon absorbs too much water from it, making the stool hard, dry and difficult or painful to pass out of the body. The result is constipation. Typically, constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements per week.1

Constipation is common during pregnancy. In fact, as many as 38 percent of pregnant women experience constipation, and it is the second most common gastrointestinal complaint during pregnancy.2

There are multiple factors that contribute to constipation in pregnant women. Hormonal changes during pregnancy relax the muscles of the digestive tract, which slows down the movement of food through the body, causing constipation. Decreased physical activity among pregnant women and the iron in prenatal vitamins can add to the problem. Later in pregnancy, as the baby grows and pushes against the intestines, constipation may get even worse.2

Many of the same lifestyle changes that may help you prevent constipation from happening can also help you treat constipation if you already have it.

You can start by drinking more water and adding fiber to your diet slowly (to avoid bloating and gas). Good fiber-rich foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, and legumes like lentils and chickpeas. Regular exercise can also help increase muscle activity in your intestines to help your stool pass more easily. It’s also important to take the time for a bowel movement when you have the urge to go.1

Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any laxatives or if your constipation doesn’t improve with lifestyle changes.

Constipation can cause some complications that may require medical attention, including hemorrhoids, anal fissures, fecal impaction and rectal prolapse.1 In addition, you should call your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms:3

  • Sudden constipation with abdominal pain and the inability to pass gas or have a bowel movement
  • Severe or sharp abdominal pain, particularly if you are also bloated
  • Blood in your stool
  • Bouts of constipation alternating with diarrhea
  • Thin, pencil-like stools
  • Pain in your rectum
  • Unexplained weight loss

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House (NDDIC). Constipation. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipation/. Accessed August 27, 2014.
2. Trottier M, Erebara A, Bozzo P. Treating constipation during pregnancy. Canadian Family Physician. 2012;58:836-838. http://www.cfp.ca/content/58/8/836.full. Accessed August 28, 2014.
3. National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus. Constipation. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003125.htm. Accessed August 27, 2014.

Information provided is for general background purposes and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment by a trained professional. You should always consult your physician about any healthcare questions you may have, especially before trying a new medication, diet, fitness program, or approach to healthcare issues.
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