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You expected morning sickness and fatigue during your pregnancy — but constipation and hemorrhoids?

Unfortunately, irregular bowel movements and constipation are common pregnancy complaints. And, all that straining can lead to painful hemorrhoids — swollen veins in the rectum. Pregnancy isn’t always the most comfortable time in a woman’s life, yet constipation and hemorrhoids can heighten the discomfort to an even greater degree. Being unable to have regular bowel movements can make you feel even more bloated and miserable. So what’s slowing things down?

Hyagriv Simhan, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, says constipation during pregnancy has many causes. For one, progesterone relaxes the muscles of the intestines, which slows down your gastrointestinal intestinal tract. The increased blood supply requires more fluid intake, which can leave you dehydrated and contribute to slow bowel movements. The iron in your prenatal vitamins also may be constipating.

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Prevention is Key

According to Dr. Simhan, the best thing you can do about constipation and hemorrhoids during pregnancy is to prevent them.

“By being proactive and staying ahead of it, you can avoid many of the problems,” he says.

RELATED: Home Remedies for Constipation

What to Do

Stay Hydrated

Double your water intake. Drinking at least eight 12-ounce glasses of water daily will keep solids moving through your digestive tract and help keep stools soft. Your increased fluid intake will also help with blood volume.

Eat Fiber-Rich Foods

A diet rich in fiber — whole grain breads and cereals, beans, fresh fruits, and vegetables — will help you eliminate waste. Aim for 30 grams of fiber a day.

Pace Yourself

Spread out your food intake by eating smaller more frequent meals. Try to eat five or six mini-meals each day.

Get Moving

Simply getting up and moving can help constipation. Regular exercise during pregnancy — walking 10 to 15 minutes several times a day — helps stimulate bowel movements and keep the digestive tract healthy.

Say No to Laxatives

If lifestyle changes aren’t working, ask your doctor about over-the-counter stool softeners, such as Colace®. Avoid laxatives, though: the ingredient that stimulates the bowel to contract also may stimulate the uterus to contract.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with an obstetrician/gynecologist near you, visit the Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC online, or call 1-866-MyMagee (696-2433).

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long renowned for its services to women and babies, but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and the hospital’s NICU is one of the largest in the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.