Constipation in Pregnancy
Written by Dr.M.D.Mazumdar, MD
Constipation is a very common complaint in many women. Almost half of all pregnant women suffer from constipation at some time or other during their pregnancy.
Constipation usually starts in the first trimester of pregnancy, is relieved to some extent in the second trimester and occurs again in the third trimester.
For many women however, it tends to increase gradually until it peaks close to the time of childbirth.
Causes of Constipation
Progesterone helps to maintain the pregnancy by relaxing the muscles of the uterus so that they can enlarge and grow. But progesterone also causes relaxation of all the smooth muscles of the body, including the muscles of the large and small intestines.
As the muscles become sluggish, movement of food along the intestines slows down. This allows the water in the food to be absorbed almost totally from the intestines, so that the end products that reach the rectum are less bulky, hard and difficult to expel.
Since the stool that collects in the rectum is less bulky, it does not fully fill up the rectum.
The incompletely filled rectum fails to send signals to the brain at the right time. And the brain fails to send signals to the muscles around the rectum to contract and expel the stool. As a result, you may develop constipation and find that you get a bowel movement only after 2 - 3 days.
Since the stools also contain less water and are hard, you will need to push harder for the stools to come out. This may lead to painful fissures in the anal canal.
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Of course, for many pregnant women exhaustion and fatigue in pregnancy is a very real cause for inactivity. But this lack of exercise contributes to less movement of the intestines and consequently to constipation.
How to Prevent Constipation in Pregnancy
The main factors for controlling constipation are the three F's - Fluid, Fibre and Fitness.
Start the day with a bowl of high-fibre cereal or oats. Increase your intake of fresh fruits and raw vegetables. Give priority to whole fruits and fruit smoothies rather than juices and extracts. Eat plenty of vegetables as salads with every meal.
Psyllium husk is inert in the human body, that is, it is not absorbed by the body and does not change its form in any way. It passes out as it is through the intestines and is excreted in the stool. What it does do is swell up in the intestines, increasing the bulk of the stool. Being mucoid (mucous-like) in nature it also coats the stool, making it easy to pass out.
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