In the last weeks of gestation, mothers-to-be often find themselves in the strange position of pregnancy prognosticators, evaluating each tiny fluctuation of their body's processes and deciding whether or not it means the baby is coming. From headaches to nausea to digestive issues, all symptoms are possible signs of oncoming labor to the mom desperate to deliver. One of the more uncomfortable potential manifestations of childbirth is constipation. But is constipation a sign of labor, or is it a more benign symptom of pregnancy overall?
When your body is backed up, the symptoms can be brutal for a pregnant woman. Not only are you already "full" so to speak, when you have additional unwanted weight through the inability to process your body's waste, your body feels like it has run out of room. It's painful, it's frustrating, and the pressure of it can be really confusing because the symptoms so closely mirror those of labor. According to the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, while constipation may not be a sign that labor is imminent, it is a common complaint of late pregnancy. That means that it's possible that it becomes a problem at the same time you'd be feeling contractions, but that it's not necessarily a sign that you're going to go into labor immediately.
According to Progress in Nutrition, constipation in late pregnancy is one of those common symptoms that happens so frequently, it's not even studied that much anymore. It's considered par for the course during the last weeks, and patients are just advised to eat lots of fiber, drink lots of water, and exercise. Researchers wrote that "fetal development in late gestation causes intestinal malrotation." In simple terms, that means that your baby is growing so large that they're rearranging your insides, pressing up against and possibly twisting parts of your digestive tract, slowing things way the heck down.
However, is constipation a sign of labor if you've been regular throughout your pregnancy? According to Jennifer A. Christie, M.D. and Suzanne Rose, M.D., FACG of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, it's likely to be hormonally-related or the result of decreased ability of the waste to move freely through your digestive tract. Bluntly — your poop is stuck because your baby is holding it there like they're bending a garden hose.
And the hose metaphor becomes even more apt when you consider a very common sign of labor that often follows constipation — diarrhea.
According to Sutter Health, sometimes all that constipation ends spectacularly right before you go into labor. The hormones that cause contractions speed up the motility of your digestive process, and the floodgates open.
I've never felt my digestion move at such a quick pace before as I did the day before I had my son. I'd just walked about 11 miles earlier in the day, and after dinner, I felt the initial rumblings. Two hours later I was begging for mercy, or at least for my butt to quiet down long enough for me to get some sleep. I had no idea it was a sign of labor at the time, but when the contractions hit early that morning, I had some clue. When my doctor asked me about the night before — what I'd done, what I'd eaten — she wasn't remotely surprised that my behind was glued to the porcelain throne all night. Thankfully, I was so cleaned out I didn't poop on the table, so I'm calling it a win.
If your constipation is bothering you, or if you think you're quite possibly about to drop a baby in your kitchen when making snacks for your toddler, talk to your provider. They're pretty good at predicting what your poop, or lack thereof, means.