Constipation in Pregnancy

Article reviewed by Marc Steben

Rest assured, constipation in pregnancy is very common. Constipation refers to bowel movements that are irregular and hard to pass, with hard stool (generally fewer than 3 bowel movements a week). It can include a sensation of incomplete defecation.

Constipation can cause or aggravate hemorrhoids and anal fissures through straining to pass hard stool. Nearly 1 in 3 women experiences constipation in pregnancy during the first trimester.

Constipation can occur for the first time during pregnancy, and chronic pre-existing constipation can become worse during pregnancy.

Why constipation in pregnancy?

Physiological and hormonal changes and some pre-existing conditions can contribute to constipation in pregnancy. They include:

Dietary factors

  • Insufficient fluid intake because of nausea and vomiting
  • Vitamin supplements that are high in iron

Lifestyle factors

  • Decreased physical activity
  • Stress

Hormonal changes that slow down digestion

  • Variations in the levels of certain hormones such as estrogen (a naturally occurring hormone produced by the ovaries) and progesterone (a female hormone that prepares the uterus for pregnancy)
  • Slowing-down of gastrointestinal motility (activity)

Other factors

  • Increase in the size of the uterus during pregnancy
  • Painful hemorrhoids or anal fissures
  • Taking drugs* including blood pressure medications, antidepressants, pain relievers and antacids
  • Overusing laxatives (rebound effect)

*Note: No drugs (prescription or over the counter) should be taken without medical supervision to ensure their efficacy and safety for both the mother and unborn child. It is important to talk to a health care professional about your constipation symptoms, to prevent other complications.