Prenatal Health — Constipation in Pregnancy

Constipation is characterized by abdominal pain, difficult and infrequent bowel movements, and the passage of hard stools. Constipation in pregnancy is thought to be due to hormones that relax the intestinal muscles and to the pressure caused by the expanding uterus on the intestines. It can occur anytime, but it is most common late in pregnancy.

Treatment and prevention of constipation

1. Eat a high-fiber diet.

Consumption of 25-30 grams per day of dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables, high-fiber breakfast cereals, bran, and powdered bulk-forming supplemental fiber such as psyllium or methyl cellulose can prevent and relieve constipation. Because greater consumption of fiber increases your requirement for water, you will need to make sure you drink more fluids. You know you are consuming enough fiber and fluid when your stools are large and soft. Too much fiber can lead to diarrhea.

2. Drink 10-12 cups of fluid each day.

The combination of fiber and fluids is what enhances elimination, and both are necessary. Women who sweat a lot or are exposed to hot, humid climates may need more than 10-12 cups of fluid each day.

3. Exercise.

Inactivity fosters constipation. Walking, swimming, or other moderate exercise helps mobilize the intestines.

4. Cut back on iron supplements.

Iron supplements cause constipation in some women, especially if the dose is high (over 30 mg per day). Constipation will often improve if the amount of supplemental iron taken is reduced to smaller doses, taken one at a time. Women with good iron levels and a healthy diet may not need to take iron supplements at all.

Suggested medications

1. Stool softeners

Try these first as directed. You should take these daily, not just when you feel constipated:

  • Colace (docusate)
  • Dialose (docusate)
  • Surfak Liquigels (docusate)

2. Bulk-producing laxatives

Be sure to drink an additional 8-oz. glass of water, 2-3 times per day. You may use these products daily:

  • Benefiber
  • Citrucel
  • FiberCon
  • Konsyl
  • Metamucil

3. Stimulant laxatives & combinations

Do not use these products for longer than one week at any given time:

  • Dialose Plus Tablets
  • Doxidan Liquid Gels
  • Dulcolax Rectal Suppository
  • Dulcolax Tablets
  • Fleets Enema
  • Miralax
  • Peri-Colace
  • Senokot
  • Senokot-S Tablets

WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR

If you have fever, chills, vomiting, severe abdominal pain associated with constipation, or no bowel movement for one week, call our office.