Pregnancy causes many changes to your body and constipation can be a common side effect.
Constipation is where you struggle to have bowel movement (sometimes only a couple of times a week) leading to a bloated and gassy stomach. It is often made worse when not enough fluids are being consumed, or you are eating a high fat or low fibre diet.
Here we’ll share why constipation occurs, how it’s linked to your diet and the best foods to relieve and stop constipation in pregnancy.
Why is constipation a common symptom of pregnancy?
Constipation is most common at the start of pregnancy as the bowel is more sluggish due to increased levels of the hormone progesterone. This means the bowel doesn’t work as hard to squeeze waste out the body, leading to a slower transit time and therefore drier waste which is hard to pass!
As the foetus grows, this also puts extra weight and pressure on the bowel making it harder for waste to travel out. However, it does mean that more nutrients will get absorbed into the bloodstream to your baby.
Another reason why constipation is common during pregnancy is due to iron supplements. Iron can impact the bacteria needed to break down food meaning problems can occur. If you are taking iron supplements, speak to your doctor about ones you can take to make you less constipated.
Furthermore, movement and exercise tends to decrease whilst pregnant due to the extra weight which can make constipation worse.
How to relieve constipation during pregnancy
- Stay hydrated. If you are constipated, it is important to drink plenty of fluids (around 8-12 glasses a day). Fluids add moisture to the stool making it softer and easier to pass - so being dehydrated can lead to a dry hard stool.
- Keep moving. Exercise is important for a healthy gut. A gentle 20 minute stroll three times a week can make all the difference to your bowel movements.
- Drink hot drinks. Hot drinks can also speed up digestive motility, so maybe sipping on a hot ginger tea in the evening could be a part of your unwind routine!
- Eat plenty of fibre. Fibrous foods are also key, we need 30g of fibre a day which softens and bulks the stool, making it easier to move through our body. If you aren’t used to having whole grains and at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables then increase your fibre slowly.
High fibre foods to relieve constipation
Whole grains are a great source of soluble fibre, which dissolves in water and forms a gel. This softens the stool making it easier to pass.
Simply swap your white bread, pasta and rice to whole grain alternatives and opt for high fibre cereals. When you read the food label, look out for cereals that have at least 5g of fibre per serving.
Studies show that whole grain rye bread is better than laxatives at relieving constipation as it contains Arabinoxylan which helps to move food through the intestine. Oats are also great as they contain soluble fibre and give us a slow release of energy. You can add them to smoothies, make overnight oats or porridge, or even eat oat cookies as a snack.
Beans contain 10g of fibre per cup, meaning they are high in fibre. You can add beans to almost any dish such as a bean chilli with whole grain rice. You can also snack on edamame beans or make your own baked beans using white navy beans.
Apples, kiwis and bananas
Fruit in general is a great addition to your diet to increase fibre intake. But apples, kiwis and bananas are especially good as they contain soluble fibre. You could add them to your morning breakfast or as a snack with your favourite nut butter or blend into a smoothie. Eating an apple with its skin on will also mean you consume 5g of insoluble fibre.
Aim to have at least three portions of vegetables a day. There are plenty of ways to add more veggies to your diet - roast some peppers or add courgette to your pasta, order a salad with your meal, or snack on some hummus and carrot sticks.
Lentils contain both types of fibre meaning they are a great addition to your diet to help you reach your 30g of fibre a day. Try a red thai lentil curry with spinach and sweet potato or make a lentil soup.
Prunes, figs and apricots
Dried fruits are a great source of insoluble fibre and are safe to eat during pregnancy - they actually contain more fibre per servings than fresh fruit. You can enjoy them as snacks with nuts or add them to porridge or overnight oats for a balanced breakfast.
Prunes and prune juice are a natural laxative as they contain the sugar alcohol sorbitol which doesn’t break down in digestion. This makes the body get rid of it, meaning bowel movements can occur. If prune juice isn’t your favourite, you could try apple juice which also contains sorbitol but in smaller amounts.
Flaxseeds are a great addition to add to smoothies and cereals for an extra dose of fibre and also omega 3 fats. Just one tablespoon contains just under 3g of both soluble and insoluble fibre.
As you can see, there are lots of ways you can help to relieve constipation from adding some prunes onto your breakfast to introducing lentils into your diet. Make sure to also move each day and keep hydrated with water and hot drinks.
Want to know more about what you should and shouldn’t be eating during your pregnancy? Get one-to-one personalised advice from our team of pregnancy nutritionists here at Naytal. We can help with everything from overcoming morning sickness to helping relieve heartburn and other symptoms.
Ellie, Naytal Dietician
Ellie is a qualified HCPC registered Dietitian and a member of British Dietetic Association. She's passionate about helping women use food to improve the health and wellbeing of themselves or their baby.