Pregnant tummy troubles
Even if you've never had any digestive problems, you may find that during pregnancy you experience constipation, diarrhoea or even both. Luckily, there are many ways to prevent and manage these conditions.
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1. Constipation

What causes it?

Hormonal issues

Pregnancy hormones cause a general slowing down of your bowels. Specifically, progesterone relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, which in turn leads to sluggish bowels and constipation.

Changes in diet

Very often during pregnancy women eat different or unusual foods, which in turn can affect your digestion. For example, when a woman finds out she’s pregnant she may start eating more fibre, but a sudden increase in fibre can in fact cause constipation, and thus an increase in fibre needs to be done gradually.

Position of uterus and baby

Your growing uterus puts pressure on the bowels making it difficult to have full bowel movements.

Stress

The stress and anxiety that you experience during pregnancy can also slow down digestion and in turn lead to constipation.

How to prevent it?

Fibre

It is essential that you have sufficient dietary fibre. Fibre is found in fruits and vegetables, legumes, bran cereals, brown rice, seed bread, nuts and seeds. Many find that increasing specifically soluble fibre in the diet can help with constipation.

Soluble fibre is found in the flesh of fruits and vegetables, oats and legumes. However, if you ate little fibre before your pregnancy, introduce it slowly – perhaps starting with a fruit in the morning.

Water

You can eat all the fibre you want, but if you don’t drink enough fluid you will find that your constipation does not improve and your stools become very hard and difficult to pass. If you find it difficult to drink plain water, add a dash of lemon juice or stick to herbal teas and soups, which will also contribute to your fluid intake.

Breathing

Try some deep breathing to help you de-stress and make you feel more relaxed.

Exercise

If you're not moving on the outside, you won't move on the inside. Light exercise can help to improve digestion, as well as help to alleviate stress and keep your weight gain in check.

Small regular meals

Large meals can cause your digestion to become sluggish. Therefore it is best to keep to small regular meals and snacks throughout the day.

Iron supplement

Some iron supplements can lead to constipation. Discuss with your doctor whether there is a slow-release iron tablet that you can change to.

Probiotic supplement

A probiotic supplement can be beneficial to improve digestion, but once again discuss with your doctor first to make sure it’s safe.

When should I call my doctor?

If you experience severe pain, cramping and/or bleeding, then it is advisable to call your doctor.

Try to avoid

Straining can lead to (or worsen) haemorrhoids. These are varicose veins around the anus that start off like little peas and can swell to feel like grapes when they protrude. 

You may not know you have them until you see fresh blood on the toilet paper. It’s important to keep this area clean and dry. Speak to your doctor about special creams that can be used to shrink haemorrhoids.

Natural remedies

Note: Before trying any natural remedy, discuss with your doctor.

Fibre supplement

There are many fibre supplements on the market which claim to improve constipation. However, not all of them are safe during pregnancy. A good option is psyllium husk-based fibre supplements, which are generally considered to be safe during pregnancy.

Digestive bran

Many use digestive bran to combat constipation. However, depending on the amount of fibre you already have in your diet, this can in fact worsen the problem. Therefore, it is best to use a small amount and increase gradually depending on your tolerance.

2. Diarrhoea

What causes it?

Hormonal issues

The hormonal changes that can cause constipation can also cause diarrhoea in some women.

Pregnancy vitamins

Some women find their pregnancy multivitamin causes loose stools. Talk to your doctor about other options.

Changes in diet

By trying to eat healthier for your baby, you may now be consuming more bre than you’re used to, which may lead to diarrhoea.

Exercise

Sometimes exercise can lead to loose stools – especially if your body is not used to so much activity.

Food poisoning

While food-borne illnesses are not specific to pregnancy, you may experience such an illness differently during your pregnancy.

How to prevent it?

Food preparation

Choose food that has been cooked properly. In addition, be careful when eating leftovers. Make sure they have been stored properly and reheated thoroughly. 

Probiotics

If you do suspect that you’ve had a food-borne illness, try taking a probiotic supplement (with your doctor’s permission), which will help to re-balance the bacteria, manage the diarrhoea and prevent a recurrence.

Gradual changes

Make any changes to your diet gradually.

Change your vitamin

If you suspect your pregnancy vitamin is to blame, discuss with your doctor if you can try a different brand.

When should I call my doctor?

Most cases of diarrhoea during pregnancy subside on their own. What could be a cause for concern is that diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, which is a serious problem for mom and baby.

Be sure to contact your doctor if

  • You are sick for more than 48 hours.
  • You have a fever.
  • You develop severe dehydration and decreased urine production.
  • You have blood in your stools and/or severe cramping.

Natural remedies

Fluids

Be sure to drink plenty of fluids - specifically water, clear soups and herbal teas. It is a good idea to consider having a rehydration solution - you can buy one from the pharmacy.

Rest

Take it easy and be sure to get plenty of rest to allow your body time to recuperate and for your immune system to recovery.

Eat correctly

Have small, light meals and follow our guide as to which are the better foods for helping diarrhoea.

Foods to choose

  • Bananas
  • White rice
  • White toast
  • Vegetable broths
  • Chicken breast (skinless)
  • Potatoes (without skin)

Foods to avoid

  • Fizzy drinks
  • Caffeine
  • Skins of fruit and vegetables
  • Greasy, fatty, creamy or rich foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Tough, sinewy or fatty meat
  • Artificial sweeteners or artificially sweetened foods

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