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Q&A: Is There Anything I Can Take to Help Severe Constipation During Pregnancy?

Question: I’ve always had a problem with constipation, but during my pregnancy it has gotten much worse. Sometimes, I go hours with such intense pains that I feel like I’m going to pass out. Is there anything I can do to help make the pain more bearable?

Answer: Oh, the indignities of pregnancy. That sounds awful!

Unfortunately, several factors conspire to make pregnancy quite constipating.

  • Pregnancy hormones slow gut function, allowing more time for the water in the intestines to be absorbed by the body, making stools dry and hard.
  • Prenatal vitamins can be constipating, particularly those containing iron.
  • If you need to take an iron supplement due to anemia or iron deficiency, constipation is almost inevitable.
  • As the uterus grows, it can obstruct the free flow of intestinal contents.

So what’s a mother to do?

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Getting dehydrated can add to the problem
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Prunes and other dried fruits actually work!
  • Don’t eat foods you find constipating.
  • Talk to your doctor or midwife about alternative sources of vitamins if your prenatal supplements are causing a problem

Fiber supplements like Benefiber, Citrucel, and Metamucil are great at
preventing constipation but they aren’t always great treatments because they can cause bloating and discomfort if you are already stopped up. The best approach if you need medications is to start by “cleaning out” your intestines with a laxative, and then getting on a daily fiber supplement to prevent recurrence of constipation.

The following laxatives are considered safe in pregnancy, but talk to your
doctor or midwife before taking any medications.

  • Milk of Magnesia, an old favorite, works quite well and has the added benefit of being an effective antacid. Follow the instructions on the bottle. Tablets or liquid.
  • Miralax is pregnancy category C but very little is absorbed into the bloodstream, so it should be safe.
  • Colace, an over-the-counter stool softener, has been used extensively during pregnancy. But it isn’t adequate for everyone.
  • Magnesium citrate, one half of the bottle, can be used if all else fails.

Constipation isn’t only uncomfortable—it can lead to intestinal obstruction and can make you miserable. Once you get your intestines emptied, get on a high fiber diet or consider fiber supplements to prevent recurrence of severe constipation during pregnancy. I hope you feel better soon!

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