Reviewed by Sue Pollard
Constipation commonly affects approximately 10% to 40% of women during pregnancy. Constipation is uncomfortable! When passing stools is difficult, you may try your best to push harder than normal. Many mums are worried that the extra pushing force will hurt the baby or even cause miscarriage. A pregnant woman recently shared her experience of constipation on a forum, saying she could feel the baby's head wanting to come out when she was pushing hard. So, what can pregnant women do to solve the problem of constipation?
Causes of constipation while pregnant
- Low dietary fibre intake
Many pregnant women may not consume enough fibre-rich foods in their diet. This is often due to a preference for foods low in fibre, such as processed foods, refined grains, and fast foods, which are also high in fat and sugar. Additionally, some pregnant women may experience food aversions or nausea that make it difficult to consume high-fibre foods
- Increased progesterone
Progesterone is a hormone naturally produced during pregnancy and is vital in supporting a healthy pregnancy. However, it can also affect the digestive system, leading to constipation. Progesterone relaxes the smooth muscles of the intestines and reduces regular bowel movements, causing food to move more slowly through the intestines, leading to constipation
- Medicine & Supplements
Certain medications and supplements taken during pregnancy can contribute to constipation in some women. Several types of them may cause constipation, including iron supplements, calcium supplements and antacids. If a pregnant woman is experiencing constipation and is taking any of these medications, it is essential to consult your doctor. Switching brands or varying dosages may reduce constipation, but results vary from person to person.
Will straining force harm the baby?
Straining won't harm the baby, but it may lead to hemorrhoids and anal fissures, which could cause painful and uncomfortable feelings for mums. Constipation can cause stools to be firmer, requiring you to strain more than usual. Some pregnant women are apprehensive about constipation. They fear that the baby will come out if they push too hard, resulting in miscarriage.
There are other potential health problems with straining, such as reduced blood flow to a pregnant woman's heart and head causing dizziness. Also, straining may be more dangerous for people with pregnancy complications such as placenta previa, premature labour, and cervical problems.
Will straining cause miscarriage?
No scientific evidence suggests that straining to have a bowel movement can cause a miscarriage. Problems with the baby's development, such as chromosomal abnormalities most commonly cause miscarriage. Other possible causes include hormonal imbalances, maternal health conditions, infections, exposure to toxins, and lifestyle factors like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
While straining to have a bowel movement is generally considered safe during pregnancy, it can be uncomfortable or even painful for some women, especially if they are experiencing constipation.
3 Ways to relieve constipation while pregnant
1. Increase dietary fibre intake
The first step in treating constipation is to increase your diet's fibre and water intake. There are two main types of dietary fibre: soluble fibre helps soften the stool, while insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool, allowing it pass through the bowel more quickly. Constipation is usually resolved by eating whole grains, fruits, or vegetables and aiming for about 25 grams of fibre daily. Good sources of fibre include:
- Whole grains
2. Drink plenty of water
Drinking plenty of water is one of the first measures to relieve constipation during pregnancy, which helps to facilitate bowel movements; in addition, limit the intake of diuretic beverages such as tea, coffee and alcohol. You should drink 8 to 12 glasses (approximately 1900 to 2800 ml) of water daily during pregnancy. Drinking water not only helps digestion but also helps the circulation of nutrients in the body and helps waste to be excreted from the body.
3. Do regular exercises
Regular exercise can improve the peristalsis of the gut. Pregnant women should avoid contact sports and exercise on uneven surfaces to prevent sprains on loose joints. The following exercises are good, safe and low-impact;
- Walking - Walking is a low-impact, low-risk activity that can be done throughout pregnancy. It's a great way to stay active and get some fresh air.
- Swimming - Swimming is a low-impact exercise that can help reduce swelling and discomfort during pregnancy. It's also a great way to stay cool during hot weather.
Always listen to your body and modify or stop any exercise that causes discomfort or pain. It's also important to stay hydrated and avoid overheating during physical activity. Learn more about diet and exercise for pregnant women in the blog here.
Staying healthy during pregnancy
Pregnant women can choose healthier lifestyles. Here are some tips to improve your eating habits during pregnancy:
- Dietary diversity
- Eat grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy (or dairy substitutes) every day
- Choose nutritious food
- Consult a registered dietitian, physician or pharmacist if planning to take vitamin or mineral supplements
- Seek advice from a registered dietitian or doctor if you require a special dietary
Overall, while straining to have a bowel movement is unlikely to cause a miscarriage, it's important for pregnant women to prioritize their health and well-being, and to talk to your midwife about any concerns or questions they may have about their pregnancy.
- 8 Weeks Pregnant - Symptoms & Baby Development
- What Exactly Is Listeria and What Can Happen From a Listeria Infection?
- Diet and Exercise During Pregnancy
1. Australian Government - Department of Health. (2019). Constipation. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.health.gov.au/resources/pregnancy-care-guidelines/part-i-common-conditions-during-pregnancy/constipation
2. Austin Regional Clinic. (2021). Can straining to go when pregnant hurt the baby? Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.austinregionalclinic.com/news-and-events/article/clinics/can-straining-to-go-when-pregnant-hurt-the-baby
3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2019). Health Tips for Pregnant Women. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/healthy-eating-physical-activity-for-life/health-tips-for-pregnant-women
4. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2020). What can help with constipation during pregnancy? Retrieved April 13, 2022, from
5. The Victorian Government. (2014). Constipation. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/constipation
6. Family Health Service. (2020). Minor Ailments in Early Pregnancy and Their Management. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.fhs.gov.hk/tc_chi/health_info/woman/15656.html