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.
My last day of "work" is next Wednesday and I'm kind of freaking out. I've decided to take an early maternity leave to stay home with my son, who is 2, while we wait for the arrival of his baby sister in June. I have mixed emotions about making this transition from working mom/business owner to stay-at-home-mom. On one hand, I cannot wait to be done and focus on my little guy and get ready for the new baby to come. But on the other hand, I'm scared to put my nutrition counseling practice on the back-burner, considering how much I love my job and how hard I've worked over the past 7 years to build it. I'm also worried that I will go crazy at home. That somehow my brain will turn to mush, I won't ever shower again (let alone wear make-up), I'll live in yoga pants and all I will do is breastfeed and play with playdough. I know I'm being over-dramatic, but sometimes this is what I picture.
Here's the thing. My husband and I have decided that I'm likely not only going to take a year off this time, but I might take 2, 3, or even 4 years off. Yep. I might become a real, live stay-at-home-mom. And I'm excited and terrified at the same time.
Over the past several years, I've built a nutrition counseling practice from the ground up despite a lot of self-doubt and many hurdles along the way. I am very passionate about the work that I do and now know that with passion and a lot of perseverance, anyone who wants to badly enough, can create her own dream job. And now that I have the clients, the referrals, the perfect office space and the best job ever, I'm going to put it on hold. Potentially for a few years.
Am I crazy?
Very recently, I've had to tell potential new clients that I cannot take them on because I'm going on maternity leave. Every time I do that, it kills me, just a little. To think that a short 7 years ago I was hoping, wishing and practically begging for clients (I'm sure many entrepreneurs out there can relate). And now I'm telling them that I can't see them? I guess we do crazy things when we become moms? Make decisions that we never thought we'd make, but somehow just make sense?
But there are reasons that I've decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Aside from the fact that I am extremely fortunate to BE ABLE to stay at home (which is something that I'm extremely grateful for), I also know that these years are going to fly by and that I want to be the one who raises my kids and witnesses, first-hand, all of their milestones. Don't get me wrong, I completely respect moms who work (I'm one of them at the moment) out of necessity or out of choice. But there is something inside of me that is telling me (maybe it's my gut instinct?) that I need to be at home for a few years. And I'm excited about this new chapter and know that eventually I will find my groove, and it will be wonderful in so many ways.
But sometimes I actually wonder if I'm cut out for it...the whole stay-at-home-mom thing.
Here are my worries:
I'm worried that I'm not going to have any "me-time" anymore.
I'm not sure how I'm going to keep busy for 8-10 hours with a 2.5 year old and a newborn every day and not go crazy.
I'm worried about finances.
I'm worried that I'm going to miss out on amazing work opportunities.
I'm worried that I will lose part of my identity.
I'm worried that I'm going to be restless and not enjoy the time that I spend with my kids.
I'm worried that when I do return to nutrition counseling, I'll have to start from square one.
And finally, I'm worried that I won't have time to balance everything—being a good mom and wife, keeping up with my writing and blogging (because this is something I am definitely not putting on hold), staying caught up on current nutrition trends/research, nurturing my friendships, staying fit etc.
Can anyone relate?
Despite these worries, I also know that I won't ever regret, for one second, spending this time with my kids. And I also know that my work will wait for me and that instead of giving up my business, it may morph into something that I can manage while being at home with kids. I'm hoping that with writing my weekly blogs and maybe even working on some exciting new projects (in my spare time, right?), I will keep my foot in the amazing world of nutrition and health. And maybe I will never find that "perfect balance" that we all strive to achieve as moms. But I will do my best to roll with the punches, enjoy the precious moments that I have with my son and new baby daughter-to-be and amidst the chaos, take time for myself sometimes.
Wish me luck!!
Most of us mindlessly eat once in awhile. You may catch yourself snacking when you're bored, tired, or out of habit every now and then, which is fairly normal and likely won't negatively effect your weight or health. But it's when mindless eating or snacking becomes a daily occurance or happens several times a day, that it can lead to unhealthy weight gain and health issues over time. Here are some tips that may help:
When you see a food that you love, your brain signals to your pancreas to release insulin, which then makes you feel hungry. It doesn't matter whether you were physically hungry or not to start with. Seeing, smelling, or even thinking about a food can make you desire it. I call this the "see-food syndrome." If this sounds familiar, do yourself a favour and take the cookies off the counter, toss the stale donut holes out that are sitting in the staff room, and put the homemade banana loaf in the deep freeze.
I often refer to the "hunger scale" in my writing and in my nutrition counseling practice. It's a tool that can help you to become a more intuitive and mindful eater. Try pausing before you have a snack and ask yourself whether or not you are actually physically hungry. If you are, make yourself a healthy snack that contains protein and carbohydrate (not just starchy or sweet high carb foods). If you've already started eating, know that you can pause halfway through and decide to stop. Or, if you are not hungry, yet have a craving that you can't shake, portion it out and enjoy. Sometimes it's just worth it.
Sometimes without thinking, we mistake thirst for hunger, and our first instinct it to grab a snack. Before you know it, you're over-full but still thirsty. Try having a glass of water before you grab a snack, wait a couple of minutes, and re-evaluate.
Research shows that eating breakfast alone helps to tame overeating later in the day, but more recently, there is evidence to suggest that having a high protein breakfast will help stop unhealthy snacking throughout the day. So skip the high sugar breakfast cereal and opt instead for one of these higher protein choices.
Perhaps your late night TV watching snack-fest is more of a fun habit than a physical need. Some people like to keep their hands busy while watching TV, and others look forward to vegging out after a long day and indulging in comforting snack foods while watching their favourite show. I get it. But here's the thing—it is easier than you think to consume half (if not more) of your daily calories in snack foods at night. Yikes. So instead, try making yourself a hot cup of tea, steamed milk with a bit of honey, a decaf latte or a tea latte at night. A slightly sweetened hot drink will feel like a treat, fill you up, and keep your hands busy while watching your favourite show.
If you decide to have a snack or treat food, do not eat out of a bag, box or container. That is a recipe for overeating. Why? Because we tend to eat food to completion (until it's gone). When you portion your snack out onto a small plate, or into a bowl or cup, it provides an opporunity to re-evaluate whether or not you need to go back for more. It will keep you somewhat accountable.
* photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons purlgirl918