Let’s talk: Constipation

Most people experience constipation in their lifetime. But what is constipation, and what can you do about it?

Constipation can be annoying and painful! It is difficulty passing a bowel movement (poo) or infrequent bowel movements. There’s no magic number for how many bowel movements you should have in a day or week. However, if you’re having less than 3 per week, you’re likely constipated. 

Other symptoms of constipation include:

Why does constipation occur, and why is it bad?

Before we talk about why constipation occurs, we need to talk about what stools are. When our food travels through our digestive system, nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine and waste is moved through the large intestine with muscle contractions (peristalsis). Excess water is then removed, and the waste is temporarily stored in the rectum before it is passed as a stool or bowel movement. Water makes up about three-quarters of stools, while undigested fibre, intestinal bacteria and dietary fats make up the rest. 

Constipation can occur for a number of reasons including:

Constipation can be bad because it is not only painful but it means waste is staying in the body longer than it should be. Side effects of constipation can include fatigue, weight gain, hormonal imbalances (think acne, PMS, period pain), reduced gut health and poor immunity. There can also be complications from chronic constipation, such as faecal impaction, faecal incontinence, haemorrhoids, rectal prolapse and urinary incontinence. 

Constipation and the mensural cycle

It is common to experience changes in bowel movements throughout the mensural cycle due to changes in hormonal levels – you may be familiar with harder or looser stools during or before your period. This is due to progesterone building up in the lead up to the period which can slow down the digestive system. IBS and endometriosis make it more likely to be constipated in the first few days of your cycle. Working with a practitioner like Court Garfoot Nutrition to balance your hormones can be beneficial in relieving these symptoms.

Constipation in pregnancy

Pregnancy hormones relax the muscles and slow down the transit time of food through the digestive system, making constipation in pregnancy very common! Over 40% of women report experiencing constipation during their pregnancy, particularly in the first and second trimester. Women who experience constipation prior to pregnancy often find their symptoms are worse during pregnancy, which makes preconception care even more important! Treating constipation in pregnancy is very similar to treating non-pregnancy related constipation so make sure you’re meeting your pregnancy nutritional requirements and check out the strategies below for constipation. It may be helpful to book a consultation if you’re unsure about your pregnancy nutritional requirements. 

How can constipation be treated?

Treatment of constipation involves a number of different strategies depending on the cause. It can include increasing stool bulk to optimise peristalsis in the intestines ensuring sufficient fluid intake for appropriate stool lubrication, supporting a balanced diet, balancing the gut microbiome and eradicating any infections in the digestive system. 

  1. Toileting – Go to the toilet when you feel the urge, and make sure you have time and privacy to have a bowel movement. Avoid straining when sitting on the toilet. 
  2. Exercise – Walking, swimming, cycling, yoga will ease constipation and make you feel healthier. Try to be active and get some exercise every day. 
  3. Fluids – Make sure you’re hydrated and reduce your caffeine intake in tea, coffee, soft drinks and energy drinks. 
  4. Foods – Eat plenty of high fibre foods (whole grain cereals and bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, dried fruits and legumes). Bran and psyllium are good natural sources of fibre and can be sprinkled over cereal. Increase your fibre intake gradually to help prevent bloating.
  5. Fruit – Kiwi fruit, pineapple, mango, bananas, figs and rhubarb contain actinidin a stimulating laxative that can help relieve constipation. Pears also contain high levels of water and fibre which can help too. 

If you or your little one is still experiencing constipation, there are many practitioners who treat constipation you can reach out to including me here at Court Garfoot Nutrition, or your GP, to investigate the root cause.

Help! My little one is constipated! 

Firstly, bowel movements can vary significantly between children. Breastfed babies may have a bowel movement following each feed, or only one poo each week. Whereas formula-fed babies and older children will usually have a bowel movement at least every one to three days.

Constipation is a common problem in children, particularly around the time of toilet training or starting solids. It can occur for many reasons including:

Signs of constipation in children can include:

Along with the above tips, the following can be useful when your child is experiencing constipation:

This article is not intended to be medical advice and is purely for educational purposes.