For World Digestive Health Day I look at digestive problems in pregnancy. Even if your digestive function is usually tip tip, pregnancy can bring a number of unwelcome digestive system issues.
What are the most common digestive problems in pregnancy?
Morning sickness – nausea and vomiting
Indigestion and heartburn
Constipation and haemorrhoids (piles)
Changes in appetite, food cravings and aversions
Why is pregnancy linked with digestive problems?
An increase in the hormone Progesterone causes smooth muscle to relax and can lead to a slowing of digestive function. Plus everything is generally getting more squished, especially in the final trimester. Your growing baby and uterus will push your digestive organs into a smaller space, slow the movement of food through the digestive system and can cause stomach acid to be forced upwards. Women are often prescribed iron tablets in pregnancy which can also cause an upset stomach, nausea and constipation, so a double whammy.
What can you do to help relieve them?
Morning Sickness –
Most common during the first trimester (and certainly not confined to mornings), what and how you eat can help to reduce feelings of nausea and sickness.
Eating small and often to keep your blood sugar levels balanced is key. Include some protein with each meal and avoid refined sugars and grains.
Ginger is a well known traditional remedy. Include fresh ginger in a hot drink or add powdered ginger to cereals.
Avoid fatty foods.
Constipation and (the often associated) Haemorrhoids –
Fibre – increase your intake of soluble fibre from oats, vegetables and fruit (dried fruit such as prunes and figs are especially good in moderation – too much can adversely affect blood sugar balance). Avoid non-soluble fibre such as bran as this can irritate the gut and reduce absorption of iron potentially leading to a deficiency and the prescription of iron with (you’ve guessed it) an increased tendency to constipation.
Look after your gut flora – Include probiotics from live yoghurt and fermented foods and prebiotics such as onions and leeks.
Fluids – make sure you drink plenty of water to keep your system hydrated. A warm drink can help to encourage peristalsis
Exercise – Keep moving and your digestive system will too. Try pregnancy friendly yoga, swimming and regular walks.
Supplements – Try Magnesium and Vitamin C. You can even buy Vitamin C as magnesium citrate, which is easily absorbed and covers your needs for both. Vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron from your food which may mean you can dispense with the iron supplement. If your prescription iron is causing digestive system problems try a gentler form such as Iron Bisgycinate which has a better absorption rate and is therefore needed in lower doses, leading to less side effects.
Indigestion and Heartburn –
Eat smaller and more frequent meals rather than large meals
Try to eat more slowly and chew your food well.
Avoid eating too close to bedtime and avoid lying down until at least an hour after eating
Avoid trigger foods. These tend to be acidic foods (fruit juices and tomatoes), spicy foods and also very fatty foods, which take longer to travel through your system. You may also find caffeine or chocolate aggravate your symptoms.
Try a soothing herbal tea but avoid drinking too much liquid at meal times.
Changes in appetite and cravings –
It is important to eat enough in pregnancy to support your growing baby and include a variety of foods to ensure a wide range of nutrients. Try to eat in a balanced way with foods from all groups and if your eating becomes very limited due to food aversions or cravings seek advice.
Regular cravings (to pickles for example) are not anything to worry about but if you find yourself fancying a bit of something strange to eat like dirt, clay, ice, raw rice or coal, you may be suffering from a rare condition called Pica. This is most often related to nutritional deficiencies, such as iron and tends to subside when the deficiency is rectified. If you have bizarre cravings for non-food items mention this to a health professional.⠀⠀
Complementary therapies may also be helpful for improving and relieving morning sickness, heartburn and constipation. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The good news is that once you have had your baby, your hormone levels will reset, the pressure on your digestive system will be relieved and your digestive symptoms should resolve.
Jayne Russell has over twenty years of experience as a pregnancy and postnatal massage and nutritional therapist and is the founder of Nom Nom – award winning, certified organic pregnancy and baby skincare. Sign up for your free skincare guide “10 Steps to Super Healthy Baby Skin” at nomnomskincare.com