Pregnancy is a magical time in a woman’s life. However, during pregnancy, women have to face fluctuations in their hormone levels, which causes digestive issues like constipation. Taking fiber supplements or stool softeners is usually considered safe during pregnancy. Let’s find out more about this.
Constipation During Pregnancy
Constipation during pregnancy is a common phenomenon that troubles nearly half of all pregnant women at some or the other points during their pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Constipation develops when there are difficult or infrequent bowel movements, abdominal pain or discomfort, and passage of hard stools. Pregnancy constipation is ideally defined as having lesser than three bowel movements in a week, which can cause a lot of discomfort in pregnant women.(1, 2, 3)
An increase in the levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy causes the muscles of your body to relax. This also includes the intestines. What this means is that slower-moving intestines lead to slower digestion, which can often lead to constipation. According to a study published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, it is estimated that around three out of four pregnant women experience constipation and other bowel-related issues at some point in their pregnancy.(4, 5)
Sometimes, the iron tablets that are usually prescribed during pregnancy are also known to lead to constipation. This is why it is important to keep drinking plenty of water if you are taking iron supplements. If you find yourself experiencing regular constipation, it is important to let your doctor know as you may need to change over to a different type of iron supplement.(6, 7)
There are a wide variety of remedies available for relieving pregnancy-related constipation, including over-the-counter medicines to natural cures. While a diet high in fiber is ideally the best solution to prevent constipation, as it also provides pregnant women with much needed antioxidants and vitamins, but it is estimated that just about five percent of people in the United States meet the daily recommended amount of fiber in their diets.(8, 9)
Pregnant women need to consume at least 25 to 36 grams of dietary fiber every day to remain healthy and have regular bowel movements.(10)
If you are not getting the required amount of fiber through diet, your healthcare provider may put you on a fiber supplement to help with regular bowel movements. These supplements are sometimes also referred to as stool softeners, and they help moisten the stool, making it easier to pass. While fiber supplements are unlikely to cause any complications or harm your developing baby when consumed during pregnancy, since the active ingredient present in these supplements gets only barely absorbed by the body, but you should never start any supplement without consulting your doctor first.
Bulk-forming fiber supplements usually contain psyllium or polycarbophil, which are both considered to be safe for use in pregnancy as they are not absorbed by the body. No matter if you are taking a fiber pill, digestive enzyme, or anything else to relieve your constipation, it is always essential to talk to your doctor first. So if you are considering taking a fiber supplement when you are pregnant, here’s everything you need to know.(11, 12, 13)
How Safe Is It To Take Fiber Supplements During Pregnancy?
While it is still important to talk to your doctor before taking any supplement, fiber supplements are generally considered to be safe to use when pregnant.
The high levels of progesterone in the body when you are pregnant slows down your digestion, causing constipation and other digestive issues.(14) At the same time, taking iron supplements during pregnancy, which are usually included in your prenatal vitamins as well, also causes constipation. The good news is that taking fiber supplements can help relieve pregnancy constipation.
There are many over-the-counter supplements that are rich in soluble fiber. This type of fiber helps slow down digestion, which also helps control your glucose levels (especially if you have gestational diabetes) and lowers cholesterol levels. However, soluble fiber supplements may not help much in speeding up your already slowed down the pregnancy digestion process. Instead, the supplement might ferment in the gastrointestinal tract, causing symptoms like belching, bloating, and gas.
When it comes to relieving pregnancy constipation, taking insoluble fiber supplements is perhaps a better option. This is because insoluble fiber supplements help bulk up the stool and makes it easier to pass.
So while fiber supplements are technically safe to take during pregnancy, they might not have the desired effect and relieve your constipation. The better option would be to talk to your doctor and ask about taking an insoluble fiber supplement instead.
At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that the long-term use of fiber supplements can sometimes lead to dehydration or bring about a change in your electrolyte balance, which might prove to be dangerous when you are pregnant.(2, 15)
While taking a fiber supplement during pregnancy, you should opt for one that can be easily digested, has the fewest side effects, and is also effective. Also, make sure that the supplement you take does not contain any additional preservatives, artificial ingredients, and color. Psyllium fiber is known to have fewer gastrointestinal symptoms since it is non-fermenting. Plant-based fiber supplements are generally said to be safer during pregnancy, and they have been clinically proven to relieve not only constipation but also hemorrhoids in pregnancy. These supplements also support a healthy digestive system and have minimal side effects in pregnant women.(16, 17)
Eating a Well-Balanced Diet Rich in Fiber
If you are reluctant to take fiber supplements during pregnancy, the better option would be to get the required fiber through your diet. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, pregnant women should ideally be getting at least 25 to 36 grams of fiber every day.(18)
Increasing your intake of fiber-rich foods when you are pregnant not only helps relieve constipation and hemorrhoids but it also provides many other health benefits. For example, it reduces the risk of heart disease, regulates your blood sugar, and helps you feel full for a longer period of time without having to consume extra calories. At the same time, another major benefit of increasing your intake of fiber during pregnancy is that it lowers the risk of preeclampsia and preterm delivery.(19)
Rather than taking fiber supplements, pregnant women can easily meet their daily fiber requirements by consuming a balanced diet that consists of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and cereals. Some food sources of fiber to include in your diet during pregnancy are as follows:
- Fruits like pears, strawberries, avocado, apples, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and bananas
- Vegetables like carrots, beetroot, broccoli, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, and kale
- Legumes like lentils, split peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, cooked lima beans, baked beans, cooked black beans, and cooked edamame
- Whole grains like oatmeal, and buckwheat
- Chia seeds
- Fresh coconut
- Pumpkins seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Dark chocolate
In fact, you will be surprised to learn that dark chocolate is one of the most delicious and fiber-rich foods in the world, containing around 10.9 grams of fiber per 100 grams of dark chocolate made from 70-85% of coca. This means dark chocolate contains 3 grams of fiber per 1 ounce of serving, as compared to the 1.9 grams found in one slice of whole-grain bread.(20)
However, even if you are eating sufficient fiber and still experiencing constipation or other digestive problems, you should ask your doctor to prescribe a fiber supplement for you. As mentioned, supplements that primarily contain insoluble fiber are usually better at reliving constipation in pregnancy.
However, there are also certain precautions to keep in mind when you are taking fiber supplements during pregnancy. For example, it is important that you consume plenty of water or other liquids while taking fiber supplements. You should ideally be consuming six to eight ounces of water per day. Additionally, make sure that the fiber supplement you take does not produce extra gas and cause stomach irritation due to the fermentation process that happens in some types of fiber supplements.
During pregnancy, many women have to deal with hormone-induced constipation that can be resolved by increasing their intake of fiber, either through a fiber-rich diet or by taking a fiber supplement. However, only take a fiber supplement after consulting your doctor.
- Cullen, G. and O’Donoghue, D., 2007. Constipation and pregnancy. Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 21(5), pp.807-818.
- Trottier, M., Erebara, A. and Bozzo, P., 2012. Treating constipation during pregnancy. Canadian Family Physician, 58(8), pp.836-838.
- Bradley, C.S., Kennedy, C.M., Turcea, A.M., Rao, S.S. and Nygaard, I.E., 2007. Constipation in pregnancy: prevalence, symptoms, and risk factors. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 110(6), pp.1351-1357.
- Prather, C.M., 2004. Pregnancy-related constipation. Current gastroenterology reports, 6(5), pp.402-404.
- 2022. [online] Available at: <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/aogs.12434/abstract> [Accessed 20 June 2022].
- Melamed, N., Ben-Haroush, A., Kaplan, B. and Yogev, Y., 2007. Iron supplementation in pregnancy—does the preparation matter?. Archives of gynecology and obstetrics, 276(6), pp.601-604.
- Banhidy, F., Acs, N., Puho, E.H. and Czeizel, A.E., 2011. Iron deficiency anemia: pregnancy outcomes with or without iron supplementation. Nutrition, 27(1), pp.65-72.
- King, D.E., Mainous III, A.G. and Lambourne, C.A., 2012. Trends in dietary fiber intake in the United States, 1999-2008. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(5), pp.642-648.
- Morais, M.B., Vítolo, M.R., Aguirre, A.N. and Fagundes-Neto, U., 1999. Measurement of low dietary fiber intake as a risk factor for chronic constipation in children. Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 29(2), pp.132-135.
- Hajhoseini, L., 2013. Importance of optimal fiber consumption during pregnancy.
- Ashraf, W., Park, F., Lof, J. and Quigley, E.M.M., 1995. Effects of psyllium therapy on stool characteristics, colon transit and anorectal function in chronic idiopathic constipation. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 9(6), pp.639-647.
- McRorie, J.W., Daggy, B.P., Morel, J.G., Diersing, P.S., Miner, P.B. and Robinson, M., 1998. Psyllium is superior to docusate sodium for treatment of chronic constipation. Alimentary pharmacology and therapeutics, 12(5), p.491.
- Singh, B., 2007. Psyllium as therapeutic and drug delivery agent. International journal of pharmaceutics, 334(1-2), pp.1-14.
- Urmc.rochester.edu. 2022. Pregnancy- How Your Digestion Changes – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center. [online] Available at: <https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=90&contentid=P09521> [Accessed 20 June 2022].
- Theunissen, I.M. and Parer, J.T., 1994. Fluid and electrolytes in pregnancy. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology, 37(1), pp.3-15.
- McRorie Jr, J.W., 2015. Evidence-based approach to fiber supplements and clinically meaningful health benefits, part 1: what to look for and how to recommend an effective fiber therapy. Nutrition today, 50(2), p.82.
- Pistollato, F., Sumalla Cano, S., Elio, I., Masias Vergara, M., Giampieri, F. and Battino, M., 2015. Plant-based and plant-rich diet patterns during gestation: beneficial effects and possible shortcomings. Advances in Nutrition, 6(5), pp.581-591.
- 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf> [Accessed 20 June 2022]. Qiu, C., Coughlin, K.B., Frederick, I.O., Sorensen, T.K. and Williams, M.A., 2008. Dietary fiber intake in early pregnancy and risk of subsequent preeclampsia. American journal of hypertension, 21(8), pp.903-909.
- Nast, C., 2022. Dark Chocolate Contains a Shocking Amount Of…. [online] SELF. Available at: <https://www.self.com/story/dark-chocolate-contains-fiber> [Accessed 20 June 2022].