Constipation and Farmer Giles

What a beautiful title! Constipation is a real issue for many if not most Pregnant women. As the hormones increase (particularly progesterone) through your body, the digestive system becomes a little lax and slows down somewhat. Also, some of the Prenatal supplements for iron can have an extra constipating effect.

Christmas has just passed, so if you are anything like me, the daily schedule changed and you may also have drastically changed your diet for those couple of weeks - less fruit & veg, more fruitcake and choccies! If you had a tendency to suffer from constipation before Pregnancy, then you especially want to read this article and take some notes!

To get you back on track, and being 'consistent', here are my 5 top tips:

  1. You want to immediately address your diet and fluid intake. This is simple to do and you'll find an improvement within 24 hours. Fibre is your friend. Now, be careful introducing or reintroducing fibre into your diet as you don't want to make massive sudden changes, as then you may actually do more harm than good! So the first and easiest thing to do is to swap out all white/processed fibre sources and switch them to wholegrain / whole wheat - for example: Brown rice, pasta, bread instead of fibre-lacking white bread, pasta and rice.  Also think about eating the rainbow - include lots of brightly coloured vegetables and fruit in your daily diet. I find homemade soups are a wonderful source of nutrients and fibre this time of year, and are also handily, cheap and cheerful too. Bonus for January! Keep the skins on as much of your fruit and veg as possible to maximise your fibre intake. I love linseeds (or flaxseeds) for a fibre source aswell.
  2. Water - boring for some, but it's so crucial to hydrate during pregnancy. You should be aiming for at least 1.5Lt of water per day, more when you are exercising. Make your water more palatable by popping a few slices of fresh fruit in, or having some sparkling water, and caffeine-free teas. Keeping a glass bottle by your desk during the day or in the car with you will increase your consumption.
  3. Move that body - some gentle exercise will get the system moving, keep all your muscles toned, and keep you 'regular'. You can take a lovely brisk walk, swim, yoga class or whatever movement you are used to. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. For more details on exercise during Pregnancy, check out this in-depth guide. Your exercise should also include daily Pelvic Floor exercises. Good pelvic health will also contribute to a healthy bowel.
  4. Iron supplements can very often cause constipation. Obviously, go by your doctor's advice, but for me personally, I haven't needed a supplement during this pregnancy, and my iron levels are the highest they have EVER been - all managed through diet alone.  If you are anaemic, and have been medically advised to go onto supplements then speak to your pharmacist or doctor as to the most gentle ones on your system. Often fluid based iron supplements like SpaTone can be much softer on the digestive system, but their iron levels don't tend to be as high. Don't just assume because you are pregnant, you need additional iron. Take a look at your diet first and foremost, and really if you are eating a well balanced, iron-rich diet then you should be set. Meats, eggs, green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, certain nuts and seeds, and some wholegrain cereals are also fortified with iron. In order to aid the absorption of iron into the body, you should ensure you are eating foods high in Vitamin C too. Think brightly coloured veggies here like red and yellow peppers, oranges, kiwis, strawberries etc.
  5. Relaxation - one of my biggest friends and aids :) Keeping stress levels down and increasing relaxing rituals into your life can have an enormous impact on reducing stress levels. Stress has a multitude of effects on the body, and can certainly interrupt the digestive system. So be kind to yourself, take baths, practice meditation and in general just slow down and try not to sweat the small stuff! Also, ensure you give yourself time on the loo - seriously, don't rush and most certainly don't try to push and strain on the toilet. Excess straining can cause the horrendous Farmer Giles (aka Piles). It's also good practice to exhale and let go as you have a bowel movement, instead of holding your breath and pushing like a mad woman - great practice for delivering your baby actually!

Farmer Giles - Piles, Hemorrhoids - call them whatever you want but nobody wants them hanging around...pardon the pun!! They can cause discomfort and are just another Pregnancy symptom we can do without. If you are following my top 5 tips above then you shouldn't suffer from Piles. So what are they? Piles/hemorrhoids are swollen veins that develop in and around, and outside the opening to the back passage. How do you know if you have them? You might feel them or see them, you may bleed after a bowel movement, your skin around the opening might be itching, stingy and uncomfortable, or your GP may examine you and diagnose you. What are the treatments available for Piles? Again, go to your local pharmacist, health food store or doctor and you can get all sorts of different treatments. The first thing to do is to change your lifestyle to include my top 5 tips above.

If you need a stool softener for short-term relief, go to the pharmacist and they will give you something suitable for pregnancy. There are loads of gels, lotions, creams, and pessaries you can apply too, so make a trip to your local pharmacy for those if you need them.

A nice holistic treatment for bringing some relief to the area (you may just be tender and not be suffering from piles but from constipation) you can place some Witch Hazel or pure Aloe Vera Gel onto some loo roll or a thicker piece of cotton wool, and pop it onto your pants on the area before you go to sleep at night. You can also take a nice warm bath with some epsom salts a few times a week too.

In general, following the 5 steps above and after a few days of your chosen treatment, any irritation to the area should be resolved. For more serious problems i.e. large piles sitting outside your opening (can be pea size to grape-size!) please make sure you get some medical assistance and don't suffer in silence! For all problems, you can apply one of my favourite sayings from the amazing Marie Forleo which is "Everything is Figureoutable"! 

If you would like to practice yoga with me or find our more about my online courses, have a look here at the Prenatal online courses: Prenatal Yoga Online and Own Your Birth (which includes all the yoga sequences). 

Until next time,

Big love

Helen xx

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Helen Plass is a Pre & Postnatal Fitness Specialist, and Yoga Instructor, working with women and their birthing partners to achieve a comfortable, healthy & happy journey into Pregnancy, birth and Motherhood. She is known for her very practical & non-judgmental approach to pregnancy and the crazy times of motherhood. Check out all her communication at NurtureMamas.com, and if you are in Ireland, her local business MumandBaby.ie