Gastrointestinal (GI) issues are some of the most common complaints among pregnant women.
Unpleasant symptoms often result from problems with the gastrointestinal tract, primarily the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and rectum – and less frequently, the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. Some expectant mothers may have chronic GI disorders prior to pregnancy that can worsen and require special consideration.
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Pregnancy hormones can have a significant impact on the digestive system. The hormone progesterone, responsible for smooth muscle relaxation, can cause digestion to slow as food moves through the stomach and small and large intestines.
The gallbladder is also affected by this slowing, with delayed emptying increasing the potential for gallstone formation. Many of the digestive discomforts of pregnancy, such as morning sickness (nausea or vomiting), constipation, and heartburn, are all related to the slowed function of the digestive system.
The growing uterus itself can also affect the digestive system, sometimes pressing on or even blocking parts of the GI tract. This can lead to slowed movement of food and constipation. Drinking plenty of fluids, exercising regularly, and increasing dietary fiber are some simple ways to prevent constipation. Always ask your healthcare provider before taking any medication to relieve constipation while pregnant.
Many women have appetite changes during pregnancy, such as:
While rare, some women develop pica, a craving to eat things other than food – like dirt, clay, ice, raw rice, flour, starch, or coal. The craving indicates a nutritional deficiency, such as not getting enough iron.
According to Health.gov, pregnant women should avoid eating the following foods:
According to Health.gov, pregnant women can benefit from eating the following foods:
Bloating, the accumulation of gas in your stomach and intestines, often makes the belly feel tight and hard to the touch. It’s often accompanied by excessive gas, cramps, and constipation – with symptoms ranging from mild to extremely uncomfortable.
Extra progesterone released during pregnancy slows digestion to allow more nutrients to reach the developing baby, but can also make you feel bloated. Bloating typically occurs around week 11 and can last until delivery.
As the uterus expands to accommodate the growing fetus, it puts pressure on the rectum and lower intestine, causing constipation. While it can occur at any time during pregnancy, constipation is most common during the third trimester, when the baby presses hardest against the bowel. Because it relaxes your intestines, progesterone also slows down the passage of stool. Estrogen, another hormone, can have the same effect. Be aware that prenatal vitamins and iron supplements may cause constipation too.
Diarrhea is a condition defined by three or more loose/runny stools within 24 hours. It usually clears up on its own in several days. During pregnancy, diarrhea is more common during the third trimester – and may be a sign that labor is drawing nearer but not yet imminent.
There are three types of diarrhea:
Diarrhea during pregnancy can have three causes:
Gallstones are hardened pieces of bile that develop in the gallbladder when the bile contains too much cholesterol and too little bile salts. Gallstones can range in size, from grain of rice to a golf ball. Some patients develop just one, while others have many at once. In many cases, gallstones don’t have any symptoms or require treatment. However, a gallstone lodged in a bile duct can cause infection and extreme pain.
Elevated levels of estrogen during pregnancy increase cholesterol secretion, causing levels to rise in the bile. The simultaneous boost in progesterone causes the muscles to relax, which in turn, slows down the release of bile. Together, these hormonal changes can lead to the formation of gallstones.
Frequent urination is a common pregnancy symptom linked to the higher amount of blood in the uterus. Because the kidneys must produce more fluids to process this increased blood flow, fluids are retained in the bladder. The pressure of the uterus on the bladder means that pregnant women must use the bathroom more often. Frequent urination can start as early as the first few weeks of pregnancy and increase as the baby grows and puts more pressure on the bladder. There's no specific number of bathroom trips needed to qualify as “frequent,” only the need to urinate more than you typically do.
During the third trimester, more than half of pregnant women experience heartburn, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It mainly affects women who have experienced heartburn before pregnancy as well as women who have been pregnant before. Despite what its name suggests, heartburn doesn’t affect your heart at all.
Rising hormone levels can cause this condition by causing food to move more slowly through the GI tract. A growing baby may also squeeze the stomach, causing acid to flow back into the esophagus.
Shifts in progesterone levels can also cause your esophageal sphincter to relax, allowing food and stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus and cause discomfort.
Hemorrhoids are painful, itchy, swollen veins inside and around your anus. Constipation may cause pregnant women to strain in order to pass a bowel movement, resulting in bulging veins. In fact, about 50% of pregnant women have hemorrhoids.
Pressure from the growing baby, changing hormone levels, and increased blood volume in the pelvic region can also contribute to hemorrhoids. Pushing during labor can aggravate hemorrhoids too. One way to relieve hemorrhoids while pregnant is to relieve constipation by consuming a fiber-rich diet and drinking plenty of fluids. Hemorrhoids are particularly common during the third trimester but most often disappear after the baby is delivered.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is intense, uncontrollable nausea and vomiting that can lead to loss of up to 5% of weight, electrolyte imbalance, severe dehydration, and other serious symptoms. Unlike morning sickness, a milder condition, nausea caused by HG is always accompanied by severe vomiting. It never subsides, can cause severe dehydration, and prevents you from keeping food down. If you suspect you have HG, contact your doctor as soon as possible to ensure you and your baby receive the nutrients you need.
Better known in pregnant women as morning sickness, nausea and vomiting can happen at any time of day or night. It’s the earliest symptom most women experience, usually occurring during the first six to eight weeks. Nausea isn’t always accompanied by vomiting.
Hormonal changes are considered to be responsible for morning sickness. An increase in human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG (which helps form the placenta), is the leading cause of morning sickness. Elevated levels of estrogen and progesterone may also play a role. Morning sickness can be triggered by certain scents (since the sense of smell is heightened during pregnancy), bright lights, television, riding in a car, toothpaste, or certain foods – even ones you used to like. Sometimes there are no triggers at all!
Even if your GI symptoms are mild, it is important to let your doctor know. Your GI specialist can recommend some tips for managing symptoms and monitor you more closely throughout your pregnancy.
If your symptoms are severe, become severe, and are persistent, contact your doctor right away. Be sure to seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:
What gastrointestinal issues are normal during pregnancy?
While many GI issues are widely experienced by pregnant women, you may not have experienced any of them before. Some common causes or risk factors of gastrointestinal conditions during pregnancy can include:
What are GI symptoms during pregnancy?
It’s important to know which symptoms are normal and which require medical treatment. These symptoms are commonly experienced in pregnant women:
What contributes to the need to urinate more often when you’re pregnant?
What is pregnancy gas?
Your body makes gas as the natural bacteria in your stomach and intestines break down food. When you eat, drink, laugh, breathe, and talk, air is swallowed as well.
Developing babies do not feel the gas pain or pressure experienced by their mothers. The movement and sounds that gas makes as it moves through your intestines might even be soothing for babies in the womb.
How can I treat gas and bloating problems during pregnancy?
There are a few things you can do to minimize gas and bloating, such as:
Is being lactose intolerant during pregnancy normal?
If you didn’t consume much dairy prior to pregnancy, you may find that your body doesn’t tolerate it as well as it used to. If you are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy, gas, bloating, pain, and diarrhea are common.
What does IBS in pregnancy feel like?
Many expectant mothers experience a variety of digestive issues during pregnancy, including diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, vomiting, nausea, and bloating.
Does pregnancy cause IBS symptoms?
Increased levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy may contribute to IBS symptoms.
What foods trigger IBS?
Some common food to avoid if you have IBS while pregnant include:
What lifestyle changes help manage IBS during pregnancy?
These lifestyle changes can ease IBS symptoms:
What helps relieve constipation during pregnancy?
What helps relieve heartburn during pregnancy?
How can I avoid food poisoning during pregnancy?
Food poisoning can cause serious problems for a woman and her fetus since vomiting and diarrhea can cause significant water loss and chemical imbalance. To avoid food poisoning, follow the following guidelines:
Can GI problems cause miscarriage?
IBS, causing diarrhea or dehydration, could potentially cause preterm labor. Constipation due to IBS during pregnancy may result in rectal bleeding or even piles problems. It can raise the chances of miscarriage or even ectopic pregnancy.
Can I take probiotics while pregnant?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that boast many health benefits. Taking probiotics is generally safe and well tolerated by pregnant women. We recommend speaking with your doctor before taking any prebiotics, supplements, or medications.
What yogurt is best for pregnant women?
Greek yogurt typically has twice the protein of regular yogurt, making it a great choice for pregnant women. It's also a great source of probiotics, B vitamins, phosphorus, and calcium.
What foods are best for your GI heath during pregnancy?
Some common foods the support strong gut health during pregnancy include:
Can I drink kombucha while pregnant?
No, kombucha isn't considered safe during pregnancy because it contains alcohol and caffeine. It is also acidic and poses the risk of contamination.
Can I have honey while pregnant?
Yes, it's safe to eat honey during pregnancy. But do not give honey to babies under a year old because of the bacteria’s potential to cause a rare illness called botulism.
Are blueberries good for pregnancy?
Yes. Blueberries are an excellent source of nutrients during pregnancy. They contain Vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and folate – all great for healthy fetal development.
Is green tea good during pregnancy?
Green teas, including matcha, are considered safe during pregnancy. While they're also much lower in caffeine than coffee, limit yourself to less than three cups of green tea a day.
What teas should I avoid during pregnancy?
Studies show that if you drink chamomile tea regularly, you may have a higher risk of miscarriage, preterm labor, or low birth weight. Other herbal teas to avoid include:
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