While constipation during pregnancy is uncomfortable & unfortunately common, there are several ways to treat it & ease discomfort

Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal symptoms experienced by pregnant women. In fact, constipation during pregnancy affects up to 40 percent of women.

Experiencing constipation while pregnant can mean passing hard stools, at times painfully. It can also mean having less frequent bowel movements and involve additional symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, cramping and flatulence.

Why do women experience constipation during pregnancy?

The main reason pregnancy is thought to cause constipation is due to pregnancy hormones relaxing the bowels and causing them to work more slowly.

How do you relieve constipation during pregnancy?

As constipation can cause discomfort during pregnancy, it’s best to treat or prevent it whenever possible. Some tips that may help to relieve constipation during pregnancy include:

• Eating foods that are high in fibre, such as wholemeal breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables, and pulses, such as beans and lentils. You should aim to consume about 30 grams of fibre per day

• Exercising on a regular basis. Walking, swimming or other exercise can help to stimulate your bowels

• Drinking plenty of water – try to drink six to eight glasses of fluids each day

• If you're taking iron and calcium supplements, these can make you even more constipated. You can discuss stopping taking these or changing to a different formulation with your doctor

• Medicines. If lifestyle changes do not help, you may want to consider taking a medicine. Your GP or pharmacist will be able to advise you which medicines are suitable for you during pregnancy. Medicines can hurt the unborn baby. Always speak to your GP or pharmacist before using any medicines during pregnancy

When should I be worried about constipation during pregnancy?

Constipation can lead to other complications including:

• Haemorrhoids or piles – straining to move your bowels could cause swelling in the veins in and around the anus. Ask your GP or pharmacist about options for treating your haemorrhoids

• Anal fissure – a big or hard stool can cause small tears in the anus. Treatment depends on the severity of the fissure and should be discussed with a healthcare professional

You should see a GP if you:

• Are not improving with treatment

• Are regularly constipated and it lasts a long time

• Are bloated and it lasts a long time

• Have blood in your poo

• Have unexpectedly lost weight

• Feel very tired all the time

• Are taking medicine that’s causing constipation – such as opioid painkillers

Next steps

• Take measures to help prevent constipation during pregnancy, such as exercising regularly when you feel able to, eating high-fibre foods, and drinking plenty of fluids

• Speak to your pharmacist or GP if you need help managing your constipation

• If you experience complications due to constipation, consult your GP for diagnosis and to discuss treatment