Pregnancy – Healthy Bowel Movements

Pregnancy – Healthy Bowel Movements

It’s well known that pregnancy can change a women’s bowel motility, but have you ever wondered why? Is there anything that can be done to prevent this from happening, or at least help when it does?

Slow bowel movement usually occurs in women during the 1st and 2nd trimester of pregnancy. For some, it may be the first time they experience it, and the common reason is usually hormonal changes.

During pregnancy, women produce higher levels of progesterone hormone. Progesterone plays a very important role during pregnancy, and levels steadily rise throughout the pregnancy until it reaches its maximum level usually just before labour occurs.

How does all this progesterone affect bowel movements? It’s pretty simple, science has shown that progesterone causes bowel muscles to relax, causing food and waste to move slower through the colon. However, a 2013 clinical study showed that an increase in oestrogen inhibited muscle contractility in the colon. So, whether it is rising progesterone or oestrogen levels, we can safely say that hormonal changes in women during pregnancy can induce constipation.

Another cause of slow bowel movement can be due to the uterus expanding, taking up valuable space normally occupied by the bowel. This may understandably lead to interference with its normal activity.

Finally, constipation may develop due to an underlying genetic predisposition, inappropriate diet (such as not enough fibre and fluids) or a side effect from taking iron supplementation. Let’s also not forget that some women may exercise less for various reasons during pregnancy, and they are possibly experiencing more stress than usual. Both the lack of exercise and increased stress levels can play havoc on healthy bowel movements.

Here are some suggestions to help keep things moving during pregnancy:

  1. Exercise – Science says that regular moderate exercise can reduce stress and improve bowel movements. Make sure you do 30 mins gentle exercise 3 to 5 times weekly.
  2. Bowel Habits – Try to maintain healthy bowel habits. Don’t ignore the urges to go. Listening to your body and following through with those urges will keep the bowels regular.
  3. Diet – Make sure you eat a good mix of soluble and insoluble fibre. Click on this link to find out more.
  4. Hydration – It’s common knowledge that drinking plenty of fluids can help digestion and fluid requirements increase during pregnancy, especially during through the 3rd trimester but it can also be with foods that are high in moisture content such as yoghurt, soups, milk, stews, fruit and vegetables. You need about 3 litres a day (from food and drinks). Also try reducing salty foods such as preserved and cured meats, cheese like feta or foods with high contents of cheese such as pizza.
  5. Bitters – Bitter foods and herbs such as lemon juice, leafy salad greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and dandelion root tea can help. Bitters stimulate the taste buds promoting digestive function and secretions which help the flow of bile and subsequently bowel motility.
  6. Meditate – Reduce your stress levels by meditating at least 10 minutes a day. If you are not sure how, there are plenty of guided meditations online and many books to learn how.
  7. Iron supplements – Make sure you use readily absorbed iron such as carbonyl iron.
  8. Phloe Bowel Health – Phloe Bowel Health capsules and chewable tablets can be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Taken alongside a healthy diet, Phloe contains beneficial fibre, enzymes and prebiotics that feed healthy bacteria within the digestive system. These gently normalise bowel movements without urgency, and also help with gas, bloating and digestive discomfort.

Pregnancy can be a challenging time for most women, and it’s the little things that can make a tremendous difference to overall comfort and health. We hope this gives that little bit of relief and please feel free to chat to one of our Naturopaths if you have any questions. You can contact them on