Constipation is common during pregnancy, occurring in 11 to 38 percent of pregnant women. It usually appears during the third trimester but less commonly during the second trimester. It is thought that increasing progesterone and estrogen hormones during pregnancy may be responsible due to the inhibitory effect these hormones can have on the colon’s ability to contract (and thus, move food through). Dietary factors may also play a role, most notably a lack of dietary fiber.

Medication use during pregnancy can negatively affect the growing baby, and is generally avoided wherever possible. But constipation can be uncomfortable, at best, and straining during constipation can impair the function of the pelvic floor or even cause uterine prolapse, at worse. Because constipation can bring trouble, and so can medications, finding natural effective solutions for constipation during pregnancy is greatly needed.

A recent study published in Nutrition Journal has done just that. In 20 pregnant women with functional constipation, a multistrain probiotic formula containing the probiotic strains Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, at a dosage of 4 billion cultures daily for four weeks was found to increase the frequency of bowel movements from 3.1 to 6.7 bowel movements per week on average. That means the women went from having a bowel movement about every other day to having a bowel movement just about every day. That’s good news in my book.

The women also experienced a decrease in a number of other bowel symptoms such as abdominal pain, straining, feeling of incomplete evacuation, and even reflux. What’s more, no side effects were reported, which is important when evaluating a safe treatment for pregnant women. More studies will be needed to confirm these results in a larger placebo-controlled trial, but for now the results are promising. Constipation affects so many people—pregnant or not—and addressing the underlying dysbiosis, or gut imbalance, that is a cause of constipation simply makes sense.