Pregnancy is full of beautiful and life changing moments. Like constipation. Even if you’ve never had a problem with constipation before pregnancy, there’s a good chance your baby to be has brought it on: more than 50% of pregnant women experience it.

Hormones play a huge role in the likelihood of constipation. Seriously, what can’t we blame on hormones?! Other factors include the uterus taking up more space, allowing less room for the colon to work. And there’s the necessary evil of ingesting more iron from your important prenatal vitamins. This results in the perfect concoction for constipation!

Reducing constipation will not only help you feel more comfortable, and reduce the occurrence of hemorrhoids (painful, swollen varicose veins in the rectum), but it will also protect your pelvic floor muscles during both the birth itself and help in getting the vagina “back in shape” postpartum.

What? How?! Constipation often leads to straining during BMs. Straining wreaks havoc on the muscles in our pelvic floor, leading to increased muscular tension. For an easier delivery, you actually want muscles that can relax and let go of tension.

After delivery, the impact of increased muscular tension in our pelvic floor can inhibit our ability to recover because the muscles are now shorter and tighter. Whether your muscles are short and tight or long and loose, it results in the same bottom line…. they are incapable of full movement. A healthy muscle in any part of our body can both tighten and lengthen. The pelvic floor is no exception…especially during and after pregnancy.

Got it. But I’m still constipated. What can I do to reduce straining? Here are some key tips to help ease constipation and protect pelvic floor muscles.

  1. Use the proper toilet position! Say what? Putting your knees higher than your hips helps anatomy do its job. It opens up the anorectal angle so that BMs come out with more ease. Try props such as books, yoga blocks or even the squatty potty. Remember to keep the hips relaxed and feet wide apart.
  1. Try diaphragm breathing to help utilize the internal pressure system known as your abdomen. As you inhale, belly expands and this puts a little pressure on your pelvic floor, encouraging it to relax. As you exhale, the belly flattens, and the pelvic floor returns to its place of rest. Encouraging this instead of straining or even shallow chest breathing (that doesn’t use the diaphragm in your abdomen) is key for this and for pushing your baby out!
  1. Water and Fiber! Make sure you’re intaking plenty of water (at least half your body weight in ounces) and fiber (25-26 grams per day).
  1. Minimize prolonged sitting on the toilet. Keep it to no longer than 10 minutes. Try again later.

While constipation is likely inevitable during pregnancy, keeping in mind these techniques can give you alternatives to the unhealthy habit of straining. So much of pregnancy is going with the flow of how our body is changing. This is one area that you have some control over; healthy pelvic floor muscles (which is part of our core stabilizing system) are beneficial for recovery and feeling like yourself quicker after delivery.

Illustration from Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi.