Common pregnancy-related conditions: Constipation and diarrhoea

Miss Karen Joash, Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at The Portland Hospital, answers the most commonly asked questions about bowel health during pregnancy, including how to tell if and when you need to seek medical help.

During pregnancy, your body has to cope with a lot of changes, which can impact many things, including your bowel health.

What are the main bowel changes you can expect during the first, second and third trimester?

Constipation and diarrhoea are both common during pregnancy and a person’s bowel habits can change in any trimester. Constipation is usually as a result of hormonal changes in the body, whereas diarrhoea is more frequently due to an infection.

What causes constipation in pregnancy?

Hormonal changes during pregnancy mean the gut transit is slower and thus women are more prone to constipation during this time. Constipation can also occur as a result of dehydration. This is likely to occur if you’re experiencing regular bouts of morning sickness.

What are the signs of constipation?

There are many signs of constipation; here are some of the more common ones:

  • Hard stool
  • Pellet-like stools
  • Delayed passage of stool
  • Abdominal discomfort

Pregnancy and bowel problems constipation 1456806811.jpg

How can I treat and manage constipation in pregnancy?

There are certain things you can do to reduce constipation, such as drinking lots of water, exercising frequently and including things such as flax seeds and berry extracts into your diet. If your constipation is persistent, taking over-the-counter prescription laxatives can also help, although it’s best to check with your consultant or midwife first. 

If the constipation does persist, it’s important it’s treated correctly as it can lead to vomiting, abdominal discomfort and haemorrhoids (lumps which form inside and around the anus).

When should I seek medical help for either constipation or diarrhoea during pregnancy?

If you’ve not passed a stool for more than three days, it’s best to seek medical advice. Similarly, if you have diarrhoea which lasts for more than two days then seek medical advice. 

If you have diarrhoea and it contains blood, if you’re feeling faint or unable to pass urine, then it’s important you seek more urgent medical advice.