London - Women are two-three times more likely to suffer from constipation during pregnancy and right after childbirth than at any other time in their life, warn researchers.
Constipation is common, and the risk of infrequent bowel movement is increased by diet that is low in fibre. It becomes more common with age, and women tend to have constipation more often than men.
"However, constipation-related problems subside surprisingly quickly after delivery," said study lead author Moona Kuronen from the University of Eastern Finland.
Published in the International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology (BJOG), the new study focuses on the incidence of constipation in the second and third trimester, as well as immediately after vaginal and caesarean delivery.
The research team explored the incidence of constipation and other gastrointestinal problems in more than 1,000 fertile age women.
The study found that 44 per cent of women have constipation in the second trimester, and 36 per cent in the third.
The incidence of constipation after vaginal delivery increases to 47 per cent, and as many as 57 per cent of women who had a caesarean delivery reported gastrointestinal problems and constipation.
According to the researchers, the percentages are surprisingly high and, since gastrointestinal problems have an effect on both physical and mental well-being, their prevention should be discussed in pre-natal clinics early on in pregnancy.
Severe constipation increases the risk of haemorrhoids, urinary and faecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse.
"Constipation during pregnancy is more common in women who have suffered from it already before pregnancy, or during their possible earlier pregnancy," Kuronen said.
According to the researchers, daily exercise, eating a balanced diet that is rich in fibre, and drinking enough fluids are the most important ways to prevent constipation.
In pregnancy, placental hormones cause bowel movements to slow down, and the growing uterus can make it difficult to pass stool normally. In addition, pregnancy changes the way fluids get absorbed from the gut.
If lifestyle changes aren't enough to alleviate constipation, laxatives (substances that loosen stools and increase bowel movements) may be needed.
One of the new discoveries of the study is that normal bowel function is restored quickly after childbirth.
"Our findings show that constipation and other gastrointestinal problems are very common. This is why it is important to invest in their prevention and treatment, and in the related counselling, both during pregnancy and after childbirth," the authors wrote. (agency)