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How To Cope With Constipation During Pregnancy

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Constipation is an unpleasant but common symptom of pregnancy. The good news is, there are steps you can take to deal with it. Here is Dr. Keith Eddleman, author of Pregnancy for Dummies, with advice on how to cope with constipation during pregnancy.

STACEY: I’m Stacey Tisdale for howdini. When you're pregnant all sorts of maddening things can happen to your body. Swelling, sleeplessness, and even constipation, which can make us very uncomfortable. But there are things you can do to deal with this. Joining us to discuss those things is Dr. Keith Eddleman, Director of Obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, and author of two books, including Pregnancy for Dummies. Thanks for joining us. Dr. Eddleman why do pregnant women have such problems with constipation?

KEITH: There are a couple different reasons. Probably first and for most is, there’s a hormone called progesterone, which is produced very early in the pregnancy to actually support the pregnancy. One of the side effects it has it can actually slow down the speed of which thing go through your intestinal track. So it can lead to an increase in the constipation. The second thing is that many women are taking iron during the pregnancy to help keep their blood counts up. Because the baby needs extra iron to build red blood cells, and unfortunately a side effect of iron is that also causes you to be constipated. When you put the two together it could really be a problem when you’re pregnant.

STACEY: What are some of the things that we can do about this? I mean you have to take your prenatal vitamins.

KEITH: Well, the things your mom told you as kids eat lots of high fiber eat lots of food with fiber. Green leafy vegetables, things like that. Some women ultimately need stool softeners that you can get over he counter. And that’s not something harmful for the fetus at all so you should take that if you have a chronic problem of constipation. And occasionally women need stronger medication to help with that.

STACEY: So that’s a big concern among women. Can I take these over the counter medicines that you said that’s fine?

KEITH: The over the counter medicines are fine and safe to take. Most of them work by, locally, they stay within the bowel, they stay within the intestine. So they really don’t, appreciable amounts don’t get to the baby or the fetus itself, so they’re not really a problem. If you have a question though you should talk to your doctor or provider to ask them about the medications.

STACEY: When do I know I’m having a problem versus just normal constipation?

KEITH: If it’s uncomfortable. If its uncomfortable for you that’s a problem. You know you want to be as comfortable as you can. You know the average individual has one bowel movement a day, and you find that you went for three day’s without a bowel movement that’s not typical, you know. Eventually your going to get uncomfortable, you might not be at that point, but I would use that as a barometer. If you notice that you’re not having a daily bowel movement, them maybe you want to do something to help move things along.

STACEY: And can women expect this to last through the whole pregnancy?

KEITH: Unfortunately it usually does, because progesterone is elevated throughout the whole pregnancy. You’re taking iron throughout the whole pregnancy usually, and then as the baby gets big you have pressure of the baby in the uterus on the intestines too. It sort of compounds the problem also toward the latter part of pregnancy. So unfortunately it’s usually throughout the whole pregnancy.

STACEY: So get used to it, and just keep a watch to see if it’s normal or if you need to be concerned about it.

KEITH: You don’t necessarily have to get used to it cause there are things you can do to make it better. You know, some of the things we’ve talked about earlier. I wouldn’t accept the fact that I’m constipated, I would try to do something to make it go away or to improve it.

STACEY: Great advice, thank you Dr. Eddleman for joining us on howdini.

KEITH: Thank you.

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