Chronic constipation is infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools that persists for several weeks or longer. Generally, constipation is having fewer than three bowel movements a week. Chronic constipation may cause excessive strain to have a bowel movement.
Dr Ruzindana Kenneth, a consultant at Kigali University Teaching Hospital Kigali (CHUK), says that constipation is a common problem during pregnancy; approximately almost half of pregnant women get constipated at some point.
He adds that lots of women describe constipation as having that “stopped up” feeling, abdominal discomfort or having dry or hardened faeces. Going to the bathroom can be difficult or painful.
Dr Iba Mayele, an obstetrician gynaecologist at Clinic Galien in Kimironko, explains that worry, anxiety, minimal physio exercise and low fibre diet may cause constipation in pregnant women, which is thought to occur due to hormones that relax.
One reason for constipation during pregnancy is an increase in the hormone progesterone, which relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, including the digestive tract, which means that food passes through the intestines more slowly, according to BabyCenter, an online media company.
Iba says that the intestinal muscle, and the pressure of the expanding uterus on the intestines may contribute to constipation.
He notes that constipation during pregnancy increases the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and bowel obstruction, also known as intestinal obstruction, (this is a mechanical or functional obstruction of the intestines which prevents the normal movement of the products of digestion.)
“During pregnancy, elevated progesterone levels cause smooth muscles to relax, which slows the passage of food through the intestines. This increases water absorption from the bowel and results in constipation,” Ruzindana says.
In addition to this, a rapidly growing uterus, which compresses the intestines and pushes the stomach upward, also contributes to the problem. Stress and lack of exercise can worsen the situation as well.
Ruzindana further says that constipation won’t affect the baby, though sometimes it leads to other serious problems such as haemorrhoids (swollen veins in the lower part of the anus and rectum), rectal bleeding (blood that passes from your anus) and rectal fissures.
He urges pregnant women to drink lots of water (at least eight glasses daily), consume enough fibre, fruits, vegetables and keep active (walk at least 20 to 30 minutes daily), if the constipation persists, seek medical help.
However, he advises to see a doctor about possible alternatives. Medication like laxatives or stool softeners, enemas (the injection of fluid into the lower bowel through the rectum), and rectal suppositories can relieve the pain, though one should only take such medicine after consulting the doctor because it might induce labour, yet it is not proper to give birth before the right time.
Iba says that swimming and other moderate exercises help the intestines work by stimulating the bowels; schedule exercises three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes.