The most common question I get on the blog and through our contact form is "I'm constipated, bloated and uncomfortable, please help me!"
First of all, if you're reading this and you've emailed me, I'm sorry to hear you are feeling this way! I used to be right where you are. I can always sense desperation in people's emails because they are clearly at their wits' end and I get it. It's pretty crappy (pun intended) to feel like you are full of poop all the time.
Aside from the fact that not having a daily visit to the john really weighs you down, being constipated can cause a whole range of other symptoms:
There's more, but let's stop here because these are the most common issues that being chronically constipated can cause. Some of these issues are caused becausetoxins and waste get re-absorbed into the bloodstream when you are not eliminating regularly. Bad bacteria feasts on impacted fecal matter rotting your large intestine. Sorry if this is a bit much for you, but that's what's happening.
If you are eating a lot of sugars and starchy carbs, this makes matters worse. The yeast and bacteria are definitely having a party in your belly feeding off all that fermentation. But don't worry because I've got solutions!
I've written about this topic many times on the blog because I too used to be chronically constipated. Now that I'm pregnant, the most common question other pregnant woman ask me is "how are you dealing with the constipation issues?"
Constipation in pregnancy is extremely common due to the slowing down of your digestion caused by an increase in a hormone called progesterone.
This serves a purpose though, because it gives your small intestine more time to absorb all the nutrients from your food, although for many pregnant women it also means constipation.
Additionally, your growing baby can put pressure on your rectum and an increased blood supply means you need to drink a LOT more water. Many pregnant women simply do not drink enough water – more on that in a bit.
Side note: Constipation is a good reason to quit coffee while pregnant. Caffeine is very stimulating to the intestines and can cause food to be pushed through too rapidly for optimal nutrient absorption to occur.
Fortunately, I haven't suffered from constipation during my pregnancy but I'm definitely prone to it based on my past. However, my diet and overall health is much different than it was in my 20s.
Whether you are pregnant or not, these solutions will help you get to the bottom of your constipation issues. Here are my natural solutions for constipation:
1. Chill out.
If you're a high-strung type-A personality, then your nervous system is working against you to keep your colon tight. In order to have regular bowel movements, you must be in a relaxed state of mind. When your nervous system is in "sympathetic" mode, your body constricts and muscles contract. You've likely felt this before when you've beenstressed at work and come home with a headache, sore back or neck. This is because you've been tense all day. This tension affects your digestive system, too. And remember if you're pregnant, your baby is emotionally connected to you as well, and feels what you feel.
Peristalsis (the action of waste material being pushing through your intestines) happens when you are relaxed. This doesn't mean you need to take a vacation just to make sure you poop every day, but you do need to make time to poop. If you hit snooze on your alarm at least 3-4 times every day, then you need to get to bed earlier so that you can rise earlier and make time for a morning poop. If you're always rushed in the morning, your body will not make time to eliminate.
I've got numerous articles on ways to bring more peace and less stress into your life, such as stress busting foods and nutrients, 5 simple ways to a more peaceful mind, 4 steps to release stress and of course a how-to article on meditation.
Of course, there are some people who get stressed and have the opposite problem and crap too often, which isn't necessarily better. Stress reduction will benefit these people as well.
2. Eat the right kind of fiber
Now that you're pregnant, you definitely should not take a laxative (nor should you otherwise). Even if you're not preggo, they make matters worse because they promote a lazy colon. Instead, eat more fiber. Try acacia root fiber, chia seeds, ground flax, sweet potatoes, apricots, prunes, plums, lentils, beans. These types of foods will soften stool. Have a fiber-rich smoothie every day for breakfast! Remember to add fiber slowly. No bran buds -- have you check the ingredients list lately of your favourite cereal? Think bran buds or bran flakes are helping? They are FULL of sugar and a highly processed food that you want to avoid.
3. Drink at least 1.5 to 2L of water per day
Your blood volume increases by just a little under 50% during pregnancy. This means that you need to increase your water intake because you simply need more fluid otherwise you can easily become dehydrated. When you are dehydrated, waste material cannot easily flow through your intestines and constipation – or dry, hard stools that are hard to pass – is often the result.
4. Change up your iron supplement.
Cheap iron supplements are one of the most common causes of prenatal constipation. Unfortunately, most practitioners who are not Naturopathic Doctors or Certified Nutritionists will likely have no clue what is the best kind of iron for you to take. Quite often clients will tell me their doctor recommended an iron supplement and told them it won't make them constipated but as soon as they begin taking it, they are still constipated and have an upset tummy. When I look at the form of iron in the supplement, they are taking it's usually the cheapest form with poor absorption.
My favourite non-constipating brands that are easy on your tummy are THORNE, AOR ORTHO-IRON, Mega Foods Blood Builder and New Chapter Iron Food Complex. By the way, as a nutritionist, I do not agree with the notion that every pregnant woman should be taking additional iron beyond their prenatal multi unless you've been told to by a certified practitioner to do so. Many women are advised to take more than 30mg of iron when there is absolutely NO need. Be sure to talk to your practitioner about this if you've been told your iron levels are adequate and you are taking more than 30mg per day.
Not only is getting poked during pregnancy a fantastic way to release stress and relieve pregnancy nausea, it can also help relieve constipation. There is an acupuncture point located in the middle of your belly that is related to digestion. Find yourself a reputable practitioner and go get poked! I did acupuncture in my first trimester to relieve pregnancy nausea and it really helped. So did wearing acupressure bands (sea bands) on my wrists – I wore these ALL the time.
6. Eat well and joyously!
I've lost count of the number of times people have said to me "hurray, you can eat for two and eat whatever you want!" I know these comments are all in good fun but they kinda make me cringe. When I got pregnant, I never thought to myself "thank goodness now I can gorge on whatever food I want." In fact, pregnancy was even more of a motivating factor to eat better than ever because I'm growing a human being. For me, the biggest change was not drinking vino (he he he). And yes, I still eat gelato and good pizza from time to time :)
Indulging in junky, processed, sugary food on a daily basis is going to set the stage for constipation, mood swings and weight gain beyond the normal range. Plus, continuing with this pattern only causes more cravings for unhealthy foods. I've got tons of recipes that are amazing for you and baby here and in my book Joyous Health.
7. Lemon Juice in Water
Such a simple habit with incredible health benefits for digestion and beyond. Lemon helps to stimulate detoxification of the liver via increasing bile. Bile, along with fiber is a carrier of toxins so it is a fantastic habit for detox. Lemon and water stimulates good quality bowel movements. I've written lots of articles about this and done videos too. You can learn more here.
I've had to significantly cut back on my level and type of exercise during my pregnancy. As you probably know if you read my blog regularly or follow me on Instagram, I started doing Barre classes last year and was going 3-4 times a week. I absolutely LOVED it. I continued through to the beginning of my 2nd trimester and then noticed I didn't feel great doing that kind of activity anymore. It was just too intense for me. However, that doesn't mean that you should stop intense activity if you feel great doing it! The key is to listen to your body.
I now do yogaand powerwalking. I'll do one or the other every day and this promotes regularity because exercise boosts bowel motility – meaning, moving your body gets the waste and toxins moving through your body. If you're sedentary and sitting a lot, pregnant or not, this can cause constipation. If you're finding it tough to get motivated, here are some great tips from my hubs Walker on 4 excuses you're not exercising and how to overcome them.
Let me know if you have any nutrition questions during pregnancy! I love writing about this topic and I'm happy to help you have a joyous pregnancy.
Wishing you joyous poops!