Constipation affects about half of all women during pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association. There are a number of reasons women are impacted by this uncomfortable problem. Pregnant women tend to become less physically active, more worried and anxious, and have a diet that is low in fiber. The Mayo Clinic also suggests that an increase in certain hormones, such as progesterone, can cause the muscles in the digestive tract to relax, slowing the processing of food and waste. Other causes can include the iron in prenatal vitamins, too little consumption of water and pressure from the growing baby, explains BabyCenter.com.
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Infrequent Bowel Movements
Bowel regularity is different for each woman. A woman who normally has a daily bowel movement but suddenly decreases to once every other day, may be suffering from constipation. Going less than three times per week is considered to be constipation by the Mayo Clinic. Occasional constipation in pregnancy should be discussed with a medical professional to prevent more intense symptoms.
Hard stools, especially those that are difficult or painful to pass, are common with constipation. Hard stools may cause a woman to strain or push to eliminate waste. Straining can cause rectal bleeding and hemorrhoids. A hemorrhoid is a swollen and inflamed vein in the rectal tissues. A hemorrhoid can be painful and itchy. It may not go away for several days and may reappear with every bowel movement. Rectal bleeding should be examined by a medical professional.
Women who are suffering from constipation may have a sense of rectal fullness. The Mayo Clinic describes this as a sensation of blockage in the rectum, which would be felt when stools are hard and impacted. After a bowel movement, there may still be a feeling of fullness, as if the waste was not fully eliminated.
When constipation is persistent, a woman may notice abdominal cramping whether she is passing stool or not. This can be a sign that waste is backed up in the intestines. Pain, especially sharp pain, should be treated by a medical professional.
When hard stools seem to alternate with diarrhea, medical attention is necessary. When a woman is severely constipated she may only be able to pass liquid stools that can break through the hardened stools near the rectum. Medical intervention, such as laxatives or an enema may be necessary to achieve relief. During pregnancy, laxatives should only be used under the strict advice of a medical professional as they may stimulate uterine contractions or cause dehydration, explains the American Pregnancy Association. Gentle options include prunes and other high fiber foods or juices, daily exercise and stools softeners that have been recommended by the overseeing health care provider.