Birthing Ayurveda: Week 24—Bowel Back-Ups
Welcome to Birthing Ayurveda, where we follow one woman's pregnancy experience week by week—from a positive home pregnancy test all the way to delivery.
I have been waiting for the all too common pregnancy complaint of occasional constipation. But I have yet to experience it and I can say that I am quite thankful for that! My bowels are normally quite regular, but I think that some good habits have helped me. In this article let’s explore why this happens in the first place, what can help keep you regular, and what to do if you run into that occasional period of constipation.
Normal hormone increases during pregnancy create reflux by slowing down how fast the food moves through the stomach and by relaxing the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract (including the ones that block food from coming back up through the esophagus into your mouth). These same hormones slow down the movement of food through the intestines by slowing down peristalsis.
The slower movement of food through the intestines allows it to be better broken down and for more nutrients to be absorbed for your and your baby’s bodies. There are several other factors that create occasional constipation—your growing uterus taking up more space in the abdomen, iron supplements, and not to mention the fact that your fluid needs are simply much higher (your body has 50% more blood volume and needs more fluid to supply the growing baby inside of you!).
In Ayurveda, we can see the above processes as a result of a purposefully weaker downward flow of energy (apana vayu), slowing down the elimination pathway of the stool. This energy flow is weaker not only for the reasons described above but also because the body knows that the baby is not ready for delivery, which requires a strong downward energy flow.
Despite these changes, keep some basic habits in place to keep this normal change from becoming a problem.
- Drink plenty of water. As things slow down, your intestines are going to absorb more water, leaving less water to keep the stool well hydrated and easy flowing.
- Keep moving. The increased blood flow to the legs and pelvis that comes with exercise and movement helps stimulate a healthy amount of apana vayu. It also massages your internal organs (including the intestines).
- Eat your fruits and veggies! Fiber maintains bulk of the stool, allowing easier passage of the stool. Other sources of fiber are whole-grains.
- Eat smaller meals. Remember that everything is moving slower, so rather than packing in the food, making it more difficult for the intestines to process it, take your meals in smaller portions.
- Welcome good bacteria. A healthy gut flora goes a long way to support digestive health. Get these bacteria from natural yogurt with active cultures or a good probiotic.
These have been a part of my daily regimen and so I am not entirely surprised that bowel movements are not on my list of concerns. If you’ve tried the above recommendations, but are struggling with maintaining regular bowel movements from time-to-time, consider some of these ideas.
Note that Triphala is not on this list. The main reason why triphala is not used during pregnancy is to avoid stimulating the downward apana vayu energy.
- Warm milk with a spoonful of ghee before bedtime. Not only will this remedy help your sleep, but it is the Ayurvedic go-to for occasional constipation during pregnancy.
- A spoonful of soaked flaxseed (or boiled in a cup of water) can also be quite helpful.
- Other effective tools:
- Ripe bananas (not unripe which can actually worsen bowel movement regularity)
- Prunes or dates
- If you are taking iron, this could be the culprit. Try chelated iron, as it is gentler on the system.
- Consider fiber supplements, such as psyllium. When using these, start with a low dose and be sure to drink at least a glass or two of water with the supplement (otherwise, you can potentially create more troubles for yourself). Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking supplements or medications.