The Pregnancy Disorder That Three Out of Four Women Have

Constipation and other bowel problems affect 72 percent of pregnant women.


Feeling a flutter or two in your belly lately? It's not necessarily your baby kicking. According to a new study, nearly three out of four pregnant women experience constipation, diarrhea or other bowel disorders during their pregnancies. Ick!

Senior author Scott Graziano, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and Payton Johnson, a third year medical student at Stritch, asked 104 pregnant women to complete a questionnaire in their first trimester. They also asked 66 women to complete a survey in their third trimester. The results: 72 percent of women reported at least one functional bowel disorder (which included: bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome) in the first trimester and 61 percent of women reported at least one functional bowel disorder in the third trimester.

"Thus, from our data, functional bowel disorders are slightly more prevalent in the first trimester," Johnson tells As if you needed something else to worry about while you're battling "morning" sickness all day long!

What's behind the tummy trouble? According to the study's authors, functional bowel disorders during pregnancy can be attributed to many changes in a woman's body. First, it is known that hormones (such as estrogen and progesterone) have effects on intestinal motility. Because there are considerable fluctuations in these hormones during pregnancy, this can lead to changes in a woman's normal bowel habits.

In addition, as the pregnancy progresses, there is physical displacement of the bowel by the growing uterus causing alterations in bowel movements. Other causes in alterations of bowel movement frequency and functioning include changes in a woman's physical activity levels, prenatal vitamins (as they contain iron, which are known to cause constipation), new food preferences during pregnancy, as well as bony and postural changes.

If constipation is your issue, there are a few ways to get things, er, moving along. Here are some tips from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)'s consumer pregnancy book, Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month.

1. Drink plenty of liquids, especially water and prune juice or other fruit juices.

2. Eat high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grain bread, and bran cereal. Aim for about 25 grams each day. (The Loyola study found that pregnant women consume only 16 to 17 grams of fiber per day; the current guideline on Dietary Reference Intakes published by the US Food and Nutrition Board recommends 28 grams per day of total fiber in pregnant women.)

3. Walk or do another safe exercise every day.

4. Try eating smaller meals more frequently.

5. In addition, Graziano says stool softeners and suppositories are safe for pregnant women if needed (but talk to your health care provider first).

Here's the good news: bowel problems don't really affect a pregnant woman's quality of life all that much, according to the study. But if you've been spending more (or less) time in the bathroom than usual lately, at least you know you're not alone!

Keep reading: 12 ways to get your fiber fix