Not a very glamorous topic but an important one, as 3 out of 4 pregnant women experience either constipation or some digestive disturbance. Common signs of constipation are infrequent bowel motions, hard dry stools, abdominal fullness and pain. It is important to have at least one effective bowel motion per 24 hours to help rid the body of toxins, encourage the growth of good bacteria and help keep the intestinal lining free from inflammation and irritation.
The dominance of the hormone progesterone in pregnancy helps keep everything relaxed, including your bowel, which can then become ‘lazy’. In the later stages of pregnancy the growing baby can press onto the bowel and intestines making the problem worse. If good digestive health can start early in the pregnancy then everything painful, infrequent, hard or lazy can be avoided.
Pregnancy and Constipation – Fibre
Fibre is essential for a healthy digestion and is only found in plant foods.
Soluble fibre carries water and forms a gel, which helps to soften the stool allowing it to pass easily thus preventing haemorrhoids. This type of fibre is found in fruit and vegetables, oats, linseed, peas, beans and lentils.
Insoluble fibre or ‘roughage’ passes through the digestive tract, and is fermented by good bacteria to produce short chain fatty acids, these help keep the gut wall healthy and prevent leaky gut. Foods such as wholegrains, fruit and vegetable skin, nuts and dried beans contain insoluble fibre, and work to bulk up the stool and increase the frequency of a bowel motion. A combination of both fibres is essential for good bowel health.
The benefits are not just limited to pregnancy. Preventing haemorrhoids is important in pregnancy, and can make the post birth recovery so much more pleasant. However fibre in the diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes (also great for pregnancy), reduces cholesterol and can protect against inflammatory bowel disease, bowel polyps and cancer.
Avoiding the Bloat
If you currently have a low fibre diet (ie predominantly animal based), than increase fibre slowly to avoid discomfort and wind.
Soak dried beans for 18 hours (soak the night before for the following day’s dinner) and lentils for 8 hours (soak in the morning for dinner), drain and rinse very well until water runs clear and not soapy, and cook in fresh water with ¼ teaspoon bicarb soda. Bean sprouts are a great option as they are packed with nutrition and also more digestible.
Avoid large amounts of unprocessed bran.
Things to do for a Healthy Poo
Always try and pass a stool as soon as you feel the urge, and do some deep diaphragmatic breathing instead of straining. Give yourself time on the toilet and don’t be in a hurry. Sitting on the toilet at a similar time very day can help to train the bowel to become regular, like clockwork.
Fibre can’t function without fluid so staying hydrated is essential. Pregnancy also increases the demand for fluid due to the increase in blood volume, so make sure 2-3L of filtered water is a regular, daily habit. You can add lemon, lime or cucumber to the water to help with taste, also warm water with lemon juice first thing in the morning can help to get things moving. Watch your coffee and tea intake as caffeine is dehydrating, and can contribute to hard stools.
Speaking of moving, regular physical activity helps keep your bowel moving. Some great pregnancy options are walking, swimming and pregnancy yoga.
Iron supplements are commonly prescribed in pregnancy. Unfortunately the type of Iron can cause dry, hard, dark stools. If an Iron supplement is recommended by your health practitioner then use one containing a well absorbed form of iron such as bisglycinate or amino acid chelate.
Take time and stop to eat. Ensure the eating environment is relaxed, and chew food thoroughly whilst breathing slowly.
Smaller more frequent meals are much easier to digest, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, and avoid overeating. Filling up until your 80% full is the general rule.
Bitter foods such as dandelion leaves, endive and radicchio stimulate digestive enzymes which aid digestion. It’s great to have a mix of organic lettuce leaves in the fridge and add to lunch and dinner, with 1-2 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil and a splash of lemon juice.
Ways to Add Fibre to Your Daily Diet
Make the switch to healthier wholegrains such as oats, brown rice, rye and spelt.
Eat raw, unsalted nuts and seeds, and fruit with skin on as a snack. For example brown pears, under ripe bananas, apples, figs and kiwi fruit (with or without the skin).
Add beans, lentils and barley to soups, stews, curries and salads (don’t forget to soak them).
Beans on wholegrain toast for breakfast.
Add an extra vegetable to the evening meal.
Hummus and carrot sticks as a snack before dinner, instead of cheese and crackers.
Reduce animal and saturated fats and focus on essential fatty acids such as avocado, tahini, nut butters, and chia seeds added to oats or made into a pudding.
When Things Get Hard
When you are felling constipated it is normal to want relief as soon as possible, however avoid over the counter commercial laxatives. They can cause more harm than good. Laxatives can irritate the gut which in turn can irritate the uterus, leaving you with some painful Braxton Hicks tightening’s, and also in a state of panic. Some are dehydrating, leaving you with an electrolyte and nutrient imbalance, and some can make the problem worse by reducing the tone of the bowel.
- Try adding 1-2 tablespoons of LSA (ground linseed, flaxseed and almonds), or 1 tablespoon chia seeds to your breakfast or oats. Let them soak in before eating. Top with prunes (optional).
- 1-3 stewed or soaked prunes, or 1 cup prune juice can have a laxative effect.
- I heaped teaspoon flax meal, psyllium husks or slippery elm powder, in a glass of apple or pear juice, drink immediately and follow with an additional glass of water.
- Massage the abdomen in a clockwise direction with good quality cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, or warm organic coconut oil.
Be patient. You will soon be feeling lighter and more energetic.
Always consult your trusty health professional for further advice as required.