A woman’s body changes a lot during pregnancy and after childbirth. These changes often lead to unfortunate medical conditions, which can even include a certain form of diabetes. Thankfully, much of the usual symptoms associated with pregnancy can be attributed to gastrointestinal issues. Even better, many of these conditions are temporary. However, they can be annoying and inconvenient while you’re experiencing them.
This article will cover some of the most common gastrointestinal issues encountered by women during and after pregnancy, as well as a few tips on how to manage or avoid them.
Most pregnant women will experience constipation multiple times throughout their pregnancy. Indeed, this gastrointestinal condition can happen at any time, but it’s pretty common during the second and third trimesters. This is due to the fetus growing larger and exerting more pressure on your bowels, which can constrict the passageways through which waste travels.
The hormone progesterone can also cause constipation. A pregnant woman produces more of this hormone to slow down bowel activity so that her body has more time to absorb nutrients. However, this also causes food to remain longer in the bowel, drying it out and becoming more difficult to poop out. Other causes of constipation during pregnancy include changes in your diet, as well as additional minerals (such as when prescribed with pregnancy vitamins).
To avoid constipation or to at least minimize its occurrence while pregnant, add more fiber and water to your diet. Exercising also helps, as body movement can also stimulate the muscles in your bowel. Just ask your doctor for safe workouts for pregnant women.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, women can experience what’s often referred to as morning sickness. It’s simply nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting, but it’s been called that because it often occurs in the mornings. Fortunately, after 3 months when the fetus is more “settled” in the womb, this symptom will taper off.
However, there are some women who experience extreme or severe morning sickness. This is called hyperemesis gravidarum. If left untreated, this can result in dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss. Consult your doctor as to how best to manage this condition that’s best for you and your developing baby. Meanwhile, for mild cases of morning sickness, it’s best to be mindful of your triggers so you can avoid them. Choosing low-fat and easily digestible foods may also help.
Due to hormonal changes, a pregnant woman’s liver may produce bile with either high concentrations of cholesterol and bilirubin, or lower concentrations of bile salts. Both of these situations can result in a higher risk of gallstones.
Note that you won’t usually know that you have gallstones until it causes a blockage in your bile ducts. At this point, you may feel a sudden, intense pain around your upper right abdomen or below your breastbone. Other symptoms of gallstones include fever, pain in the right shoulder or between the shoulder blades, nausea and vomiting, as well as other digestive issues like bloating or heartburn.
To lower the risk of gallstone formation, it’s best to follow a balanced diet. Eat fiber-rich foods, and choose monounsaturated and omega-3 fats instead of saturated fats.
After giving birth, some women can experience diarrhea. It’s not often clear what causes it, but it can be due to the uterine contractions triggering increased bowel activity. Some doctors also prescribe stool softeners to address postpartum constipation, but these medications may also cause diarrhea. Your stomach or intestines may also react unfavorably to some medications given to you during or after labor, which can lead to loose, watery stools.
Unfortunately, this type of diarrhea can’t be completely avoided. That said, it can be easily managed with breast-feeding-safe medication and a diet rich in fiber.
Another gastrointestinal issue that women might experience after giving birth is fecal incontinence or the inability to control bowel movements. Often, this is due to the damage received by the anal sphincter caused by “pushing” while you’re in labor. That said, there are also other reasons or risk factors for fecal incontinence post-birth. These include vaginal delivery and episiotomy (the cut made between the vaginal opening and the anus to help with delivery), the usage of forceps, as well as obesity. Women who give birth at age 35 or older are also at higher risk of experiencing fecal incontinence.
Usually, this condition manifests soon after giving birth. In some cases, however, it can occur years later. To help address postpartum fecal incontinence, you can try going to the bathroom at the same time every day. This will help train your bowels to “go” only at a specified time. It’s also helpful to do Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles in your anus and rectum. There are also certain drugs, injections, and therapies that work really well. Consult your doctor about which one is the most ideal for your situation.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and being a mother can transform your life in meaningful ways. It can also change your body, sometimes in not-so-ideal ways. Thankfully, issues like those mentioned in this article can be addressed through simple means. Take note of them so that you can get well soon and be in a better physical condition to take care of your child.