Constipation is common during pregnancy. It can be caused by the extra iron in prenatal vitamins, hormone changes and pressure the growing uterus places on the colon (large intestine). It can also be caused by not drinking enough fluids; this causes the stool to harden in the large intestine, making it more difficult and painful to go to the bathroom.
The first thing you should do to prevent and treat constipation is to drink more water. Eating more fruits and vegetables will help increase your fluid intake and up the amount of fiber in your diet, which will help keep you running smoothly.
Even when you're farther along in your pregnancy and need to urinate more frequently, don't cut back on the amount of water you drink. It may be annoying to go to the bathroom so often, but drinking lots of water will help keep you and your baby healthy and help prevent constipation.
If those measures don't work, a stool softener may help. In fact, some prenatal vitamins include a stool softener, but talk to your doctor before taking any stool softeners.
You should always talk to your doctor before taking any OTC cold or cough medicine. Some medicines contain alcohol or other ingredients such as aspirin, NSAIDs or phenylephedrine that aren't safe for your baby.
I often advise my patients to drink plenty of fluids and make sure they receive extra rest when they feel cold symptoms coming on. Humidifiers and saline nasal sprays also provide ways to help relieve congestion. If your cold symptoms do not go away within seven to ten days or you feel you need to take an over-the-counter medicine to feel better, talk to your doctor. If you do take something, treat symptoms individually rather than taking multi-symptom treatments to avoid taking medicines you don't need.
Being pregnant can be a wonderful experience but it also brings a bit of suffering to expectant moms. If patients suffer from severe allergies and need relief, they should always talk to their doctor first. He or she may point to the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (ACAAI) guidelines that note that antihistamines may be useful during pregnancy to treat symptoms of hay fever and other types of allergies. ACAAI also says that chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine have been used safely for many years during pregnancy, but be careful-they may cause drowsiness. Loratadine and cetirizine are two newer, less sedating antihistamines that are also safe to use during this time.
Although they are minimally absorbed in the blood stream, avoid taking decongestant nasal sprays for more than three days as they can cause a "rebound" effect, making your symptoms worse.
Women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant should take a daily vitamin that contains at least 400 micrograms (mcg, or µg) of folic acid. Folic acid reduces the chance that the baby will develop neural tube defects like spina bifida, where the brain doesn't form properly.
It's also a good idea to take extra iron and calcium during pregnancy. Look for supplements that contain 17 milligrams (mg) of iron and 200-300 mg of calcium.
Prenatal vitamins can be a good way to get the extra vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy in a single pill, but you can also take these supplements separately, if you prefer.
Remember, you don't necessarily have to suffer through your symptoms just because you're pregnant. But be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medicines. It's the best way to make sure that both you and your baby stay healthy. If you have any doubts about whether something is safe to take during pregnancy, ask your doctor.
Dr. Mathews is a board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology in private practice in Plano, Texas.