Pregnancy: Eating for Two but Pooping For None… Help!

Posted: December 18, 2010 by The Vegetarian Barbarian in Nutrition Q & Amy

Today we have a question about pregnancy and constipation.  Ah, the wonders of motherhood.  Here is the question:

“I am pregnant and having a terrible problem with constipation.  Is there some kind of food or something that I can eat every day that would help this situation?”

I can offer you a definitive maybe.

Constipation is very common for pregnant women.  Maybe that makes you feel better about the situation?  Let me explain the reasons why this might be happening to you and offer some suggestions to get things moving along.

5 Reasons the Pipes Get Clogged

  1. Hormonal Changes (Progesterone)
  2. Dietary Habits* (e.g. Inadequate Fiber)
  3. Diet/Nutritional Supplements
  4. Fluid Intake
  5. Stress

Let’s break down each one of these topics:

Hormonal Changes

As you have likely learned in either your own reading or in pregnancy classes, Progesterone is an important hormone that must be produced by the ovary for the first 8 weeks of pregnancy.  From the 9th week on, the placenta takes over its production.  Why is it important (in case you missed that class day)?  Well, Progesterone provides safe maintenance of pregnancy.   Without it, a pregnancy will fail.  Right, so it’s really important that we have it and… it causes constipation.  That’s a great deal, right? Progesterone levels in your body increase dramatically during the duration of the pregnancy which helps to relax the uterine muscle allowing your baby to grow.  This also decreases the movement of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract for the mother and causes constipation.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic food to compensate for this; I just wanted to give you some facts to help you understand what is happening in the body.

Dietary Habits:

Now we can talk about food fixes.  Pregnant or not we all know the jokes about eating lots of fiber.  Eating foods high in fiber is recommended because fiber grabs a bunch of stuff from the intestine and ships it out of the GI tract, which increases fecal volume (opposite of constipation).  In quick summation of the pertinent facts: fiber in, poop out.  I can get into a lengthy blog about fiber, but I will save that for another day.  The Cliff Notes version of fiber is that there are two types; insoluble and soluble.  I will only talk about insoluble here because that is the one that will help with constipation. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole wheat/whole grain breads, bran cereal, vegetables, and fruits.  See the table below for specifics:

 

Foods with at Least 4 g Fiber per Serving
Food Group Choose
Grains ⅓ – ½ cup high-fiber cereals. Check Nutrition Facts labels and choose products with 4 g dietary fiber or more per serving
Dried beans and peas ½ cup cooked red beans, kidney beans, large lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, white beans, lentils, or black-eyed peas
Vegetables 1 artichoke (cooked)
Fruits ½ cup blackberries or raspberries 4 prunes (dried

 

Foods with 1g to 3g Fiber per Serving
Food Group Choose
Grains 1 bagel (3.5-inch diameter)

1 slice whole wheat, cracked wheat, pumpernickel, or rye

bread

2-inch square cornbread

4 whole wheat crackers

1 bran, blueberry, cornmeal, or English muffin

½ cup cereal with 1-3 g fiber per serving (check dietary

fiber on the product’s Nutrition Facts label)

2 Tablespoons bran, rice, or wheat cereal

2 Tablespoons wheat germ or whole wheat flour

Vegetables ½ cup bean sprouts (raw)

½ cup beets (diced, canned)

½ cup broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cabbage  (cooked)

½ cup carrots

½ cup cauliflower

½ cup corn

½ cup eggplant

½ cup okra (boiled)

½ cup potatoes (baked or mashed)

½ cup spinach, kale, or turnip greens (cooked)

½ cup squash—winter, summer, or zucchini (cooked)

½ cup sweet potatoes or yams

½ cup tomatoes (canned)

Fruits 1 apple (3-inch diameter) or ½ cup applesauce

½ cup apricots (canned)

1 banana

½ cup cherries (canned or fresh)

½ cup cranberries (fresh)

3 dates (whole)

2 medium figs (fresh)

½ cup fruit cocktail (canned)

½ grapefruit

1 kiwi fruit

1 orange (2½-inch diameter)

1 peach (fresh) or ½ cup peaches (canned)

1 pear (fresh) or ½ cup pears (canned)

1 plum (2-inch diameter)

¼ cup raisins

½ cup strawberries (fresh)

1 tangerine

Other 2 Tablespoons almonds or peanuts

1 cup popcorn (popped)

The general recommendation for pregnant women is to get about 28g of fiber per day.  I would suggest spreading your fiber intake throughout the day and not dumping all 28g into your system at once.

Diet/Nutritional Supplements:

Many women run the risk of being iron deficient.  Pregnant or not you may need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement to correct for this deficiency and to reduce the risk of becoming anemic.  What’s that mean exactly?  Well, your body creates new red blood cells every day and iron helps build “strong” blood.  Additionally, iron enriched blood carries oxygen more efficiently to all parts of the body.  If you are oxygen deprived you may feel tired, weak, and generally cranky.  While pregnant, your baby is depending on you to give them iron for brain function.  Unfortunately, a possible side-effect of iron supplementation is (you guessed it) constipation.  I suggest speaking with your health care provider for further instruction and detail.

Fluid Intake:

Dehydration and constipation not only rhyme – they’re related!

We should all drink eight to ten glasses of fluid (mainly water) daily.  This can fluctuate due to many factors.  Just like anything else, your needs are determined by your circumstances.  A body’s size, environmental conditions, and average daily fluid intake all need to be analyzed to accurately determine correct proper hydration.  I wouldn’t suggest a drastic or sudden change either.  For example, if your average fluid intake is one glass a day, I would gradually increase it over time (by a cup or two per week) to get to 10 glasses per day.  Give your body time to adjust.

Stress:

I’m stressed out that you’re constipated during your pregnancy; I can only imagine how you feel!

Stress may play a factor with pregnancy.  A physically active pregnancy may help reduce stress and may help speed things along in the GI tract.  Take a walk or try other low-intensity exercises.

Eat and drink well and you just might be saved from yourself.

The general rule of thumb for a healthy diet is when you look at your plate, does it have half a plate (50%) of vegetables, quarter of a plate (25%) of a lean protein, and another quarter plate (25%) of grain?  Think about your eating habits.  I’ll touch on this again in more detail… at another blogging date.

For now, let’s see if we can get your bowels movin’ and a groovin’ by fixing some of the common factors listed above!

In rare cases, constipation may be caused by something more severe.  If you follow most of what I’ve covered and feel it is something beyond what was discussed, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Thank you for the question.  I appreciate the opportunity to share my bowel knowledge with you.

*Other symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea/vomiting may decrease appetite and decrease your fiber intake which may also affect constipation.

 

 

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