Constipation common in pregnancy, study confirms

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Half of all pregnant women will suffer from constipation at some time during their pregnancy, new research shows.

Undated file photo shows a pregnant woman behind a curtain. REUTERS

While constipation is widely believed to occur frequently in pregnancy, there has been little research to determine its actual prevalence, Dr. Catherine S. Bradley of the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in Iowa City and colleagues report in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

To investigate, they followed 103 healthy women beginning in their first trimester of pregnancy.

Twenty-four percent reported constipation during their first trimester, 26 percent had constipation during the second trimester and 16 percent were constipated during their third trimester, Bradley and her team found, while 24 percent had constipation during the first 3 months after they gave birth.

Breast-feeding and other postpartum factors could affect women’s bowel function after pregnancy, the researchers suggest.

Women who took iron supplements were 3.5 times more likely to have constipation as those who didn’t, while women who had been treated for constipation in the past had 3.0 times the risk of constipation during pregnancy.

However, there was no relationship between constipation risk and the amount of exercise women got or the amount of fiber they consumed.

Up to 19 percent of women had symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome at some point in their pregnancy, Bradley and her colleagues found; they urge further study into a possible link between irritable bowel syndrome and pregnancy.

“Given our findings, we suggest that pregnant women who report a history of constipation at their initial obstetric visit or those who require iron supplementation be screened and counseled about constipation treatment options during pregnancy,” the researchers conclude.

SOURCE: Obstetrics & Gynecology, December 2007.