6 Tips to Help Manage Prenatal and Postpartum Constipation

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 5 minutes

What to know about constipation both while you are pregnant and after delivery

  • Know that constipation during pregnancy and postpartum is common

  • Learn what constipation is and may be causing it

  • 6 safe remedies to help prevent and manage constipation

Constipation is one of the most common, and uncomfortable, symptoms both during pregnancy as well as in your early postpartum days. While feeling backed up and bloated is never enjoyable, there are certain things you can do to help get your bowels moving.

What is constipation?

Constipation is defined as having three or fewer bowel movements per week. Often the stools are hard and dry, difficult to pass, and you may not feel as though you’ve truly emptied your bowels.1

Remember that everyone is different and there is no normal. Some people regularly move their bowels three times a day while other people move them only three times a week. Any deviation from your norm can be unpleasant and cause discomfort.

Why am I constipated?

Unfortunately, the likelihood of experiencing constipation is increased during pregnancy and for a period of time after delivery.1 In fact, it is estimated that between 25 to 40% of pregnant women and up to 50% of early postpartum women experience constipation.2,3

Pregnancy constipation:

Changes in hormones, decreased physical activity, and increased vitamin supplementation (the main culprits being calcium and iron) can all contribute to constipation while you are growing your little one.4 Not to mention that in pregnancy, your growing uterus can press down on your intestines and slow down bowel transit time.7 Water absorption from the intestines is increased during pregnancy, which exacerbates constipation issues by causing stool to dry out.4

Postpartum constipation:

During the early postpartum days, constipation is often caused by certain medications given during birth or after delivery.5 Additionally, withholding of stool may happen if a person is concerned that passing the first bowel movement will be painful. This is particularly true if there was a perineal tear or hemorrhoids developed during delivery.5

Possible causes of constipation include

  • Certain medications like painkillers, sedatives, or medication to lower blood pressure

  • Certain supplements like iron or calcium, common in prenatal and postnatal vitamins

  • Ignoring or delaying the urge to have a bowel movement

  • Getting little to no physical activity

  • Drinking inadequate fluids

  • Eating a diet low in fiber3,4,6,8

Consequences of leaving constipation untreated

While constipation is usually considered harmless, leaving it untreated could have more significant consequences for some people. Apart from it affecting your quality of life and creating psychological distress, other issues that may pop up include developing hemorrhoids, anal fissures (tears in the rectum), or more rarely, fecal impaction.4,5,9,10

If you are concerned about your constipation, be sure to check in with your health care provider.

Wondering how to reach your fiber needs or need other help with relieving constipation? Reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET). Chat Now!

6 Tips to help Prevent and Manage Constipation

Tip #1: Increase fiber intake

Soluble fiber adds bulk to your stool while insoluble fiber promotes the movement of stool through your digestive tract.22 Together, both types of fiber help keep you regular.

  • Food sources of soluble fiber: oats, beans, lentils, barley; some fruits such as apples and blueberries; some vegetables, as well as psyllium.11,12

  • Food sources of insoluble fiber: wheat bran, whole grains, nuts, beans, and vegetables like cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.11,13

Pro Tip: Aim to have a fruit or vegetable with every meal and snack. Choose nuts and seeds as toppings to yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal, or as part of a snack. When eating grains, choose ones that are whole and include fiber (as listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel). And don’t forget to include beans in your weekly rotation.

Learn how much fiber you need and how to get it: Why does Fiber Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

Tip #2: Increase fluids

Your fluid needs increase while pregnant to help support your increasing blood volume and amniotic fluid. The goal during pregnancy is 8 to 12 (8 oz) cups of fluids each day.14

Drinking more fluids is particularly important when increasing fiber. Too much fiber without enough fluids may just cause more gas, bloating, and constipation.15

Pro Tip: Watery foods eaten throughout the day also add to your fluid intake. Things like fruits, vegetables, and soup contribute to your total water intake. There are even foods that are surprisingly high in water; for example, hard boiled eggs are 75% water!16

Caffeine in coffee and tea may sometimes help to stimulate your bowels to move (especially when served hot), but make sure you’re not overdoing it with caffeine if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Read more about how much caffeine is safe below.

Read more:

Can I can Caffeine while Pregnant and Breastfeeding?

Tips for Staying Hydrated while Pregnant and Breastfeeding

Tip #3: Get moving

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes per week of safe, moderate-intensity physical activity for pregnant and postpartum women.17 This may mean about 30 minutes of activity 5 days per week.

Not only is this important for your overall health, but it can help get things moving if you are constipated.4

Pro Tip: Find an activity you enjoy. This will make it easier to keep doing it regularly. And know that any amount helps: If you need to break it up into short 10-minute walks a couple times per day to get your blood pumping and bowels moving, go for it.

Read more:
Exercise during Pregnancy

Tips for Postpartum Exercise when Short on Time

Tip #4: Try probiotics

Probiotics also known as “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria”, are live microorganisms that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut.18

Probiotics are available as dietary supplements and are also found in most yogurts as well as fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi. While more research is needed, probiotics are showing promising results when it comes to constipation.18,19

Pro Tip: While there are plenty of probiotic supplements, there is still not quite enough research to know which is best for constipation. Try getting your probiotics from food a few times per week.

Always check with your health care provider before starting any new supplements.

Tip #5: Try abdominal massage

Massage in the right place can help stimulate muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract.20

Be careful to avoid hard pressure or deep massage on your belly while pregnant and recovering from childbirth. Always check with your health care provider before giving it a try.

Pro Tip: Stool moves from your bottom right side, up and across just under the ribs, and then down the left side through the colon and out.20 Gently smooth your hand along this route several times to help stimulate movement. There are professional massage practitioners who can help you with this.

Tip #6: Limit low-fiber or “binding” foods

If you are eating a lot of processed and refined grains which have very little fiber, such as white rice, plain white pasta, crackers, white bread, refined hot cereals (like Cream of Wheat), certain cold cereals (that have minimal fiber per serving), and pancakes and waffles made from white flour, then it is likely you are not getting enough fiber.

Pro Tip: Check out the Nutrition Facts Panel to know how much fiber you’re getting. Look at the percent Daily Value (DV). Anything less than 5% is considered low in fiber, anything over 20% DV is considered high.21

When choosing cereals, bread, and pasta, look for products with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

Read more: Include More Whole Grains in your Daily Diet

A few extra tips to help you tackle constipation

Know your own food triggers

Remember that everyone is different. Pay attention to your own food triggers or reactions and limit those foods.

Don’t ignore the urge to go!

Take your time in the bathroom. Allow yourself enough time to have a bowel movement without feeling rushed.

While this practice may seem difficult with a newborn, remember that it’s OK to have your baby in the bathroom with you – you won’t be the first or the last mom to do this. Bring a baby pillow or bouncer into the bathroom to keep your baby comfortable and occupied while you take your time doing your business.

Speak with your healthcare provider if you need relief

If you suspect that your pre or postnatal vitamin or medication is causing constipation, your healthcare provider may be able to recommend an alternative.

Always chat with your health care provider before taking laxatives or other stool softeners to make sure they are right for you.

If you are experiencing constipation with accompanying symptoms like dry, hard, or difficult to pass stool or abdominal pain for more than three months, you may be suffering from chronic constipation. Be sure to speak with your health care provider to discuss your next steps to get relief.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Meal Plan for Constipation Relief during Pregnancy

How can I Relieve Constipation for my Baby and Toddler?

Meal Plan for Increasing Whole Grains