Why it happens: Although it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing, most women are prone to constipation throughout their pregnancy. You can again blame pregnancy hormones, which slow the movement of food through your intestines (the medical term is decreased gastrointestinal motility). The slower passage of food and fluid allows more fluid to be absorbed into your system. The combination of reduced motility of the intestines and firmer waste products (due to the extra absorbed fluid) contributes to constipation. In later pregnancy, the pressure of your growing uterus on the large intestine further hinders the passage of stools.
1. Increase fiber. Fiber passes through your intestines undigested and acts like a sponge, soaking up fluid. Increased fluid helps your bowels move faster and leave your body more easily. Eat more of these fiber-rich foods:
- Fruits, especially prunes, pears, figs, and apricots
- Vegetables, especially crunchy vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, and celery
- Psyllium (a natural bran-like stool softener, available at nutrition stores)
- Whole grains, such as 100 percent bran and multi-grain bread
- Legumes, beans, and peas
2. Increase fluids. If you increase the fiber in your diet, you must correspondingly increase the volume of fluids. Too much fiber and too little fluid can actually aggravate constipation by making your stools even firmer. If you like juice, try prune, pear, or apricot nectar, which is not only high in water, but also higher in fiber than plain juice. But make sure to drink six to eight glasses of water a day, too.
3. Increase exercise. Getting your whole body moving gets your intestines moving. Regular exercise seems to keep all your physiologic systems more regular, and your intestines are no exception.
4. Obey your urges. Although we are seldom far from a bathroom, busy pregnant women may not take the time to empty their bowels immediately, when their intestines tell them to. The problem is that unanswered signals soon lose their communication value. Go when you need to go, otherwise, your intestinal muscles get lazy, the signals get weaker, and constipation gets worse.
The same intestinal changes that lead to constipation may also cause you to feel gassy. As your pregnancy advances, this bloated feeling intensifies, because your growing uterus and your ballooning intestines are competing for room.
1. Keep your bowels moving. Avoid constipation, which contributes to bloating and gas.
2. Eat slowly. When you eat and drink quickly, you gulp down air too. Take time to chew your food well, and the food-processing job will be easier on the lower end.
3. Eat non-gassy foods. Common gas-producing foods include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beans, green peppers, and carbonated beverages.
4. Avoid fried and greasy foods. High-fat foods are very hard to digest, stay in your intestines a long time, and may make you feel bloated.
5. Eat like a baby. Eating small, frequent meals is more intestine-friendly than taking three big daily meals. Most pregnant women feel the most comfortable “grazing,” eating 5 to 6 mini meals at regular intervals each day.