Are prunes good for constipation during pregnancy?

Constipation is a common problem during pregnancy, affecting up to 40% of pregnant women. The high levels of progesterone during pregnancy cause the muscles of the intestines to relax, slowing down digestion. The pressure from the growing uterus can also compress the intestines, making it more difficult for stool to pass through. In addition, iron supplements, which are commonly prescribed during pregnancy, are constipating. Prunes (dried plums) are often recommended as a natural remedy to help relieve constipation in pregnancy. This article will examine the evidence on whether prunes are effective and safe for treating constipation during pregnancy.

What causes constipation during pregnancy?

There are several reasons why constipation occurs more frequently during pregnancy:

– Progesterone effects – Progesterone helps relax smooth muscle tissue throughout the body, including the intestinal tract. This relaxation slows down the muscular contractions that move food through the intestines.

– Physical pressure from uterus – As the uterus expands, it can partially obstruct the rectum and make it more difficult to pass stool.

– Iron supplements – Iron is commonly recommended during pregnancy to help meet increased blood volume needs. Iron can cause constipation when taken in supplement form.

– Dehydration – Pregnant women need more fluids, and constipation can occur if fluid intake is inadequate.

– Diet changes – Some women consume less fiber during pregnancy, which can contribute to constipation.

Do prunes help with constipation?

Prunes are widely used as a natural laxative to relieve constipation. They contain high amounts of fiber, sorbitol, and phenolic compounds, which are thought to contribute to their laxative effect.

Several studies have found prunes to be effective for treating chronic constipation in adults. In one randomized controlled trial of 40 adults with chronic constipation, eating 100 grams of prunes per day (about 10 prunes) was significantly more effective than psyllium fiber supplements for improving stool frequency and consistency. The prunes helped increase bowel movement frequency, improve stool consistency, and make it easier to pass stool.

Research also indicates that prunes may be beneficial for pregnant women specifically. A 2011 study had 20 constipated pregnant women eat 50 grams of prunes per day (about 5 prunes) for three days. This resulted in significantly increased bowel movement frequency compared to baseline.

Several other small studies have similarly found that prunes increase stool weight and frequency in pregnant women with constipation. The evidence overall suggests that prunes can help relieve constipation symptoms during pregnancy.

How do prunes help with constipation?

Prunes relieve constipation through the following mechanisms:

– Fiber – Prunes are high in insoluble fiber from cellulose and hemicellulose, which adds bulk to stool and helps food and waste pass more quickly through the intestines.

– Sorbitol – Prunes contain a natural sugar alcohol called sorbitol, which has a laxative effect by drawing water into the large intestine.

– Phenolic compounds – Prunes contain phenolic compounds like neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid, which stimulate muscle contractions in the intestines.

– Osmotic effects – The fiber, sorbitol, and phenolics in prunes all help increase intestinal secretions and water content, softening stool.

– Nourishment for gut bacteria – The nutrients in prunes can act as prebiotics by nourishing beneficial Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli bacteria species in the gut. These bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids that contribute to regularity.

This combination of effects explains why prunes are able to significantly increase stool weight and frequency when consumed daily.

How many prunes are safe per day during pregnancy?

Most experts recommend eating 2-3 prunes, 1-2 times per day to help with pregnancy constipation. Up to 6 prunes per day is generally considered safe.

The studies showing prunes to be effective for constipation typically used around 50-100 grams of prunes per day. This is approximately 5-10 prunes per day.

Consuming more than 10 prunes or 100 grams per day can cause diarrhea or loose stools, especially during pregnancy when digestion is slower. Stick to less than 10 prunes per day and monitor your body’s response.

Also keep in mind that prunes are high in natural sugar. While the fiber helps slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, excessive consumption can still raise blood sugar levels. To minimize this effect, eat prunes in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet.

When during pregnancy are prunes most effective?

Prunes can be effective remedies for constipation during all three trimesters of pregnancy:

– First trimester – Constipation is common during the first trimester as progesterone production ramps up. Prunes provide a helpful way to stay regular.

– Second trimester – Pressure from the growing uterus often leads to worsening constipation in the second trimester. Prunes are useful for relief.

– Third trimester – Constipation reaches its peak in the final three months as the uterus expands to full size. Prunes are an effective remedy during this uncomfortable time.

Prunes may be particularly useful during the late second and third trimesters when constipation becomes more frequent and severe. But they can aid with occasional constipation during any stage of pregnancy.

Keep in mind that prune juice can have a stronger laxative effect than whole prunes. If you experience loose stools, try reducing your intake or switching from prune juice to whole prunes.

Are prunes safe during pregnancy?

Prunes are considered safe to eat during pregnancy when consumed in moderation. They contain fiber, antioxidants, vitamin K, sorbitol, and other beneficial plant compounds.

No studies have found any harmful effects from eating normal amounts of prunes during pregnancy. The main side effect is possible loose stools if too many prunes are consumed, especially when drinking prune juice.

However, women with gestational diabetes need to be cautious with dried fruit. Prunes have a high glycemic index, meaning they can spike blood sugar levels. To prevent blood sugar spikes, pregnant women with gestational diabetes should consult their doctor about appropriate portion sizes and frequency of prunes in the diet.

As long as you consume prunes in moderation and monitor your body’s response, they can be a nutritious way to alleviate pregnancy constipation. Let your healthcare provider know if you experience any unusual side effects.

Are there any downsides to eating prunes during pregnancy?

Potential downsides of eating prunes during pregnancy can include:

– Loose stools or diarrhea – Prunes are effective laxatives, so eating too many can lead to diarrhea. Start slowly with 1-2 prunes per day and adjust the dose based on your body’s response.

– Blood sugar spikes – Prunes have a high glycemic index. Eating too many may cause blood sugar spikes, which is a concern for women with gestational diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance.

– Gas or bloating – Prunes may cause gas or bloating, especially when first introducing them into your diet. Give your body time to adjust.

– High in natural sugar – Prunes are high in natural sugar. While the fiber content helps slow sugar absorption, excessive consumption can contribute empty calories and weight gain.

– Pesticide residues – Non-organic prunes may contain traces of pesticide residues, though these are typically within safe limits. If this is a concern, opt for organic prunes.

To minimize risks, incorporate prunes into an overall healthy diet, stay hydrated, exercise regularly, and limit your intake to less than 10 prunes per day. Let your doctor know if any worrisome side effects develop.

What are some prune alternatives during pregnancy?

Some healthy alternatives to prunes for relieving constipation during pregnancy include:

– Pears – Pears provide fiber that acts as a natural laxative. They also contain sorbitol.

– Figs – Dried and fresh figs are high in fiber and may have a mild laxative effect.

– Kiwis – Kiwis contain enzymes called actinidins that help promote digestion and regularity.

– Apples – Apples provide both soluble and insoluble fiber to aid digestion, along with sorbitol.

– Berries – Berries like strawberries and raspberries are high in fiber and help add bulk to stool.

– Aloe vera juice – Aloe vera juice acts as a natural laxative by stimulating contractions in the intestines.

– Exercise – Physical activities like walking, swimming, and yoga help increase muscle contractions in the colon.

– Probiotics – Probiotic supplements support healthy gut bacteria and regular bowel movements.

– Increased fluids – Drinking more water, herbal tea, and prune juice softens stool and prevents dehydration.

Always talk to your doctor before taking any new supplements while pregnant. But the fruits and activities above can typically be added safely to help maintain regularity.

Tips for preventing and relieving constipation during pregnancy

Here are some helpful tips for avoiding and treating constipation during pregnancy:

– Drink plenty of fluids – Stay well hydrated with water, herbal teas, and prune juice to keep stools soft.

– Eat high fiber foods – Focus on getting at least 25-35 grams of fiber per day from foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.

– Exercise regularly – Get moving with walking, swimming, yoga or other gentle activities to stimulate the bowels.

– Establish toilet routines – Take time to sit on the toilet after meals when the urge to go is strongest.

– Avoid iron supplements on an empty stomach – Take iron with food to decrease side effects.

– Try natural laxatives – Incorporate foods like prunes, pears, kiwis and probiotic yogurt.

– Use stool softeners – Ask your doctor about using over-the-counter stool softeners like Colace as needed.

– Seek medical help for hemorrhoids – Hemorrhoids caused by constipation can be treated with topical ointments.

– Practice relaxation techniques – Stress can aggravate constipation, so take time to meditate, breathe deeply, or get a massage.

With some dietary modifications, lifestyle adjustments, and occasional use of prunes or other natural remedies, most women can manage constipation during pregnancy. But check with your doctor if symptoms persist.

When to see a doctor about pregnancy constipation

Most cases of constipation during pregnancy can be managed with lifestyle changes and natural laxatives. However, you should consult your doctor if you experience:

– No bowel movements for 3 or more days
– Hard, dry stools that cause bleeding from hemorrhoids or anal fissures
– Severe abdominal pain and vomiting
– Blood in the stool
– Persistent diarrhea lasting more than 2 days after taking a laxative
– Intense abdominal cramping
– Unintentional weight loss
– Chronic or unresolved constipation despite remedies

These symptoms may indicate an underlying medical condition causing your constipation, such as an intestinal obstruction. Prompt medical evaluation is recommended.

Most instances of pregnancy constipation don’t require medical treatment. But don’t hesitate to consult your OBGYN or primary care doctor if symptoms are severe or lasting longer than expected. They can check for any complications and help get your bowel habits back on track.

The bottom line

Constipation affects up to half of all pregnant women. The high progesterone levels and pressure from the expanding uterus slow down digestion and make it harder to pass stool.

Prunes are a safe, effective remedy that can help relieve pregnancy constipation. They contain natural laxatives like fiber, sorbitol, and phenolic compounds that stimulate bowel movements.

Studies show that eating 5-10 prunes per day increases stool frequency and softens stool consistency in constipated pregnant women. Prunes are considered safe in pregnancy when consumed in moderation. Potential side effects include gas, bloating or loose stools.

To prevent constipation, drink plenty of fluids, exercise, eat high fiber foods, and establish regular toilet habits. If symptoms persist despite lifestyle remedies and occasional prunes, consult your healthcare provider. Proper treatment will keep your digestive system regular, comfortable and healthy throughout pregnancy.

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