Today we move south through the gastrointestinal tract to the other end, which may present some issues as well. Changes in regularity are thought to be caused by a number of factors:
- Hormones of pregnancy contribute to a relaxation of smooth muscles including those of the large intestine.
- Some iron supplements can cause constipation as a side effect.
- Lack of dietary fiber.
- Drink less water than optimal, causing stools to become dry and difficult to pass.
- During the third trimester, your growing baby causes the uterus to rise out of the pelvic cavity, displacing organs and putting pressure on the colon which slows down movement through the bowels.
- After delivery of your baby, your bowels may be sluggish as your abdominal muscles, having been stretched during pregnancy, exert less pressure while moving your bowels.
- If you have stitches to the perineum after delivery or a small hemorrhoid, you may feel uncomfortable and anxious about opening your bowels. Resisting your body’s natural urge only adds to the problem of constipation.
During your pregnancy, your midwife or doctor may suggest a bulk-forming stool softener as laxatives are not recommended at this time.
From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, we seek out your particular underlying pattern while taking into consideration pregnancy-induced changes occurring in your body that lead to constipation. There are about four frequently seen patterns that emerge contributing to sluggish bowel function. After a brief description of each energetic pattern, self-help suggestions follow.
- Blood Deficiency – there will be dry stools that are difficult to pass, as well as pale lips and complexion.
- Kidney Yin Deficiency – in addition to dry stools that are difficult to pass, you might experience dry mouth and sensations of heat that are worse in the evening or night sweats.
- Liver Qi Stagnation – the stool may not be dry, but stools will be pebble-shaped or thin ribbons. You may also be feeling bloated, cranky, irritable or depressed.
- Stomach Fire Blazing – there are dry stools, thirst for cold drinks and constant hunger.
Acupuncture is a gentle and effective way of promoting a bowel movement, so seeing your acupuncturist may be helpful in getting things going. If you are experiencing morning sickness or heartburn, these issues need to be addressed first. After that, the primary focus is on your diet.
- Increase your daily intake of fresh and dried fruits (apples, raisins, figs, apricots or bananas) and vegetables.
- Incorporate flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts into your daily routine. Sprinkle them over cereal and salads, or carry a mix of raisins and nuts to snack on during the day.
- Drink ½ your body weight in ounces of water daily. In other words, if your weight is 130 lbs. your daily intake of water should be 65 oz. Sufficient water is necessary to soften stool and will help create bulk if you are adding nuts and seeds to your diet. Warm or room temperature water is best, especially first thing in the morning.
- Take a cup of warm prune juice or lemon in hot water ½ hour before meals.
- Take 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses before bed.
- 4 oz. each of freshly juiced carrot and spinach.
- Remember to take the time to eat your meals in a relaxed nurturing environment. Thoroughly chew your food as digestion begins in your mouth.
- Get daily gentle exercise. Long walks after meals, swimming, and prenatal yoga all encourage the smooth flow of Qi which in turn will encourage smooth movements.
We think these gentle, natural suggestions will be helpful to you not only during your pregnancy but at any time when constipation is an issue. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can also play a supportive and helpful role.