Constipation, hemorrhoids, indigestion, heartburn, flatulence, and belching are all part of the fun of pregnancy. There's nothing to be embarrassed about here—it's a fact of life.
When you have to strain during a bowel movement because the stools are hard and difficult to pass, you have constipation.
Most of the digestive problems of pregnancy begin with constipation. This condition is universally common in pregnant women for many reasons:
- The high level of certain hormones during pregnancy relaxes the muscles of the bowels and makes it hard for them to work efficiently.
- The growing uterus presses on the bowel and disrupts normal function.
- The iron in your vitamin supplement is known to make stools dry and difficult to pass.
Just because constipation is common in pregnancy, doesn't mean you have to accept it. You can do many things to avoid constipation, including the following:
- Drink lots of fluids. Water and fruit juices soften stools and keep digested waste passing through the bowel. (Prune juice is a powerful constipation zapper!)
- Eat fiber-rich foods. Certain foods are especially good at keeping stools soft and at making sure they pass easily through the bowel. These foods include many of the highly nutritious foods recommended for a healthy diet during pregnancy: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (dried beans and peas).
- Limit sugary, processed foods. They are binding.
- Exercise. Not only does exercise keep your muscles in shape, it boosts blood circulation and brings more oxygen to all organs (including the bowels) to help them do their jobs more efficiently.
When you are constipated, don't take a laxative. Not only can it wash necessary nutrients out of your system, it might be harmful to your baby. Talk to your doctor before taking any medicated remedy for constipation.
Hemorrhoids are a mass of swollen tissue at the opening of the rectum (where stools exit the body).
Straining during a bowel movement to pass hard stools can cause hemorrhoids. These are varicose veins of the rectum that are sometimes called "piles" because they look like piles of small peas.
If you see blood on your tissue when you wipe after a bowel movement, or if you have pain or excessive itching at the opening of the rectum, ask your doctor to check for hemorrhoids. (This might seem embarrassing, but it's nothing he or she hasn't seen before.) If you have hemorrhoids, they will accompany you through the pregnancy and will probably get worse during the pushing stage of delivery. If you take good care of them, however, they might disappear after the birth.
The following tips should help keep these piles from piling up, and if you don't have them yet, these tips will help you prevent them:
- Avoid constipation. Use all the tips mentioned earlier to keep your stools soft and moving easily through your bowel.
- Try not to strain during bowel movements.
- Put your feet up on a small stool during bowel movements to make the movement easier.
- Don't read on the toilet. If you get into a good story, you'll sit there longer than necessary; this puts unnecessary strain on the anus.
- Avoid standing still or sitting for very long periods of time. Move around, change position.
If you are bothered by the pain or itching of hemorrhoids, take action. You can use topical creams that are sold in pharmacies to ease the pain and itching. You might also try applying a compress of witch hazel or ice to the hemorrhoids. If the pain is so bad you can't sit comfortably in a chair, go to your pharmacy and buy a doughnut pillow (this is an inflatable pillow with a hole in the middle so your buttocks don't touch the chair!). When all else fails, get off your feet and lie down; this relieves the pressure and the pain.
Flatulence and Belching
The problem of flatulence (also known as "passing gas" or "blowing wind") is caused by a buildup of gases in the large intestine. Belching (also called burping) is the sudden expulsion of gases from the stomach. These are common problems during pregnancy that cause more embarrassment than pain or discomfort. Constipation can cause these problems, and so can certain foods. If you've been clearing out the room lately with odorous flatulence or belching, avoid constipation and steer clear of known gas producers, such as beans, onions, fried foods, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.