As magical and wonderful as pregnancy is, there are certain symptoms that you may deal with while pregnant that are less than...well...magical. Because of a combination of wacky hormones fluctuations and the fact that a human is growing inside of you, making for less space to digest your food, you may notice that your once calm and well-functioning digestive system is now causing you some serious discomfort and frustration. You may often feel bloated and (ahem) gassy near the end of the day, or you may experience that terrible burning sensation in your esophagus after certain meals or while you're lying in bed (heartburn). You also my not feel as "regular" as you once felt prior to pregnancy, which may cause cramping and painful bathroom breaks. As unpleasant as these symptoms are, they are usually a normal part of pregnancy and in most cases, are manageable with certain changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Read on for tips to beat the bloat, constipation, heartburn, and cramping associated with pregnancy...
Many women deal with heartburn, or acid reflux, during pregnancy, more often during their second and third trimesters. Heartburn is a burning sensation in the esophagus caused by acidic stomach contents creeping back up after eating. Lovely, right? It is most often caused by hormone changes during pregnancy causing the muscles of the digestive tract and the opening of the esophagus to relax too much, allowing for stomach contents to splash back up. What often makes it worse is entering the later stages of pregnancy, when baby is growing rapidly and crowding the digestive system, pushing food contents upwards.
To manage heartburn during pregnancy, try these tips:
Eat smaller, more frequent meals and snacks rather than 3 large square meals. This prevents your stomach from becoming over-full and may help to prevent acid reflux and allow for better digestion.
Go easy on acidic foods such as citrus fruits and juices, vinegar/mustards, and tomatoes/tomato sauces.
Avoid eating too much right before bedtime or a nap. You want to give your digestive system enough time to digest food (allow gravity to help with digestion) before laying down in a horizontal position.
Eat slowly to allow yourself time to digest food properly and to avoid over-eating.
Avoid highly spiced or seasoned foods as well as high fat deep-fried foods.
Minimize caffeine such as in coffee, tea, chocolate, and soda pop. Caffeine can relax the lower esophageal sphincter allowing acid to creep back up the esophagus.
Minimize carbonated beverages.
If heartburn does not subside and is causing you pain, talk to your doctor or midwife about pregnancy-appropriate heartburn medication.
Changes in hormones during pregnancy causes digestion to be delayed. The longer foods sits in your digestive tract, the more gas is produced. This unfortunately often translates into uncomfortable cramping, bloating and excess gas for pregnant women. Fortunately though, there are certain things that you can try nutrition/diet-wise that can help:
Eat smaller more frequent meals and snacks.
Be active regularly. Moving your body will help with the digestion process.
Although these foods are healthy, go easy on gas-producing foods such as beans, lentils, raw cabbage, onions, and broccoli. Cook gas-producing vegetables instead of eating them raw when you can.
Avoid carbonated beverages.
Sip beverages instead of slurping out of a straw (drinking through a straw allows for more air to be swallowed).
Avoid chewing gum. Gum and sugar-free candies often contain sugar-alcohols such as sorbitol, maltitol and xylitol which tend to produce excess gas. Also, you will swallow excess air while chewing gum too.
Avoid any food products that contain the ingredient "inulin." Inulin is a natural fibre coming from chicory root that is known to cause excess gas. Make sure to check ingredients lists!
Consider cutting back on your dairy consumption. If you're a big milk drinker, you may want to cut back on the amount that you have every day. Even though calcium rich foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese are important to consume during pregnancy (to get enough calcium, protein and vitamin D), they may also be wreaking havoc on your digestive system if you're consuming too much or if you are lactose intolerant. Try cutting back slightly and substitute a milk alternative such as organic soymilk or almond milk in sometimes. Avoid fat-free, sugar-free yogurts and go for full-fat (2%) instead. You should aim for about 2-3 servings of calcium-rich foods (dairy or dairy alternatives) per day. If you think that you may be lactose intolerant, speak to a Registered Dietitian about how to make sure you're getting enough calcium from alternative foods and/or supplements.
Try a pro-biotic supplement. Pro-biotics are naturally occuring "good" or healthy bacteria. If there is an overgrowth of "bad" bacteria in your gut, you may experience excess gas and bloating, so talk to your doctor, midwife, or Dietitian about taking a probiotic supplement, which if taken regularly, can help to restore a healthy balance of good bacteria in your digestive tract and help to ease bloating and gas.
Constipation, which is infrequent bowel movements and hard to pass stools, again, often caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy, effects more than half of all pregnant women at some point. Inactivity, anxiety and worry, and a lower fibre diet can exacerbate constipation. And sometimes, the iron found in pre-natal supplements can also make constipation worse or cause it in the first place. Try these few tips to ease constipation:
Drink plenty of fluids (mainly water) to help food contents travel down your digestive tract quicker and to help with overall digestion.
Eat a higher fibre diet including lots of vegetables and fruits, bran cereals, oats, and barley, and avoid white, low fibre starchy foods when you can. If you increase the amount of fibre (you should be aiming for 25-30 grams per day total), make sure that you increase your water consumption as well.
Try prunes or prune juice. Prunes are high fibre and also act as a natural laxative that can ease constipation.
Make sure that you take time to go to the bathroom everyday. As silly as this sounds, it's really important to establish a routine where you give yourself enough time to relax and go to the bathroom. Sometimes with busy schedules, kids, and work, it's hard to remember to take time to go.
If you notice that you are consistently constipated, make sure that you talk to your doctor or midwife about possibly changing the amount of iron that you're taking, switching prenatal multivitamins or trying mediations that are safe during pregnancy.