Health Library

Pregnancy: Changes in Bowel Habits

Topic Overview

Constipation

Constipation is a common problem during pregnancy. Delayed passage of bowel contents (slow transit) is the most common cause of constipation during pregnancy.

You may also have constipation or discomfort with bowel movements for a few days after delivery. Your first bowel movement may be painful if you had an episiotomy or tear in your vagina.

Constipation may be caused by:

  • A lack of fiber in the diet.
  • Medicines, such as antacids, iron supplements, or narcotic pain medicines that were given during labor.
  • Not drinking enough fluids.

Drink plenty of water and juices to lower your chance of constipation. Talk with your doctor before taking any other nonprescription medicines, such as a stool softener, to treat your constipation. Some medicines may not be safe to take during pregnancy.

You may have hemorrhoids that cause you pain during your pregnancy and after delivery. Use home treatment measures or talk to your doctor about treating your hemorrhoids.

Blood in the stool

A small amount of bright red blood on the surface of the stool or found on the toilet paper is often caused by a small rectal tear (fissure) or hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are common during pregnancy and after delivery because:

  • The larger uterus places more pressure on the blood vessels in the lower belly.
  • Constipation causes fewer and strained bowel movements.

Bleeding caused by hemorrhoids often causes pain with the bowel movement and may make the toilet water bloody. It is not serious if there is only a small amount of blood and if the bleeding stops when the diarrhea or constipation stops. Home treatment may be all that is needed.

Bleeding can occur anywhere in the digestive tract. The blood is digested as it moves through the digestive tract. The longer it takes the blood to move through the digestive tract, the less it will look like blood. Often, blood from bleeding in the stomach looks black and tarry. Blood that has moved quickly through the digestive tract or that begins near the rectum may appear red or dark red.

Talk with your doctor if your stools are black, tarry, or mixed with bright or dark red blood. Bright red blood in the toilet bowl following a bowel movement also needs to be checked by a doctor. Your doctor can do some simple tests that check for even very small amounts of blood in your stool.

Note:

Certain foods and medicines also can change the look of the stool. Taking medicines with bismuth subsalicylate, such as Pepto-Bismol, or iron tablets can make the stool black, and eating lots of beets may turn the stool red. Some food colorings also can change the color of your stool. Eating foods with black or dark blue food coloring can turn your stool black.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised March 20, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Decision Points

Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.

You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:

Interactive Tools

Get started learning more about your health!

Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.

Symptom Checker

Feeling under the weather?

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.

Symptom Checker