There are three stages of digestion that are affected by pregnancy: mouth, stomach and colon.
In the mouth an increase in saliva will break down food more quickly than before pregnancy. The increase in mouth acids can sometimes lead to sore and bleeding gums.
In the stomach the growing baby begins to take up more and more room in the abdomen, and despite the body’s best efforts to increase the space available, it’s still a struggle. Eating little and often, and reducing intake of harmful fats such as fried foods, can help reduce the discomfort of having a full tummy.
Thirdly, the very useful hormone Relaxin that helps create space for the baby to grow, also relaxes other muscles in the body - namely in the intestines. This means food will move slower through the colon and can lead to constipation.
Whilst there are lots of medicines available to help with constipation it is much better to remedy the situation through nutrition;
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Heartburn is estimated to affect between 30-50% of women during pregnancy, and research suggests this is caused by an increase in the progesterone hormone in early pregnancy. As the pregnancy progresses, the slowing of digestion and increase in space that baby takes up in the stomach area both contribute to the oesophagus’s ability to prevent food from travelling back up, in what is called ‘reflux’.
How and what you eat can reduce the symptoms or even prevent GERD from occurring at all;
Drinking enough water - approximately 2 litres per day. If suffering from both morning sickness and constipation try to take small sips throughout the day rather than gulping whole glasses.
Swapping refined foods such as white bread, flour and pasta for their wholemeal counterparts will help food move through the digestive system.
Drinking a glass of warm lemon water in the morning can help stimulate the digestive processes.
Regular exercise and movement massages internal organs and helps the passage of food through the colon.
Fruits such as prunes which contain beneficial fibre and a sugar sorbitol which is incompletely digested in the intestines and when it moves into the colon it helps move stools along by pulling water into the intestines which creates a better environment for movement. Just be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
Chew foods slowly, take your time and be present, enjoying every mouthful.
Eating and then lying down has been proven to make symptoms worse, if rest is required after eating sit keep propped upright with pillows. Try to eat meals earlier in the evening so bedtime is not straight after supper.
Eating smaller meals more frequently can help reduce the pressure on the digestive system, and by having less food in the stomach, there is less likelihood of the food travelling back up the oesophagus.
Stop caffeine, fizzy drinks and citrus fruits and it might be best to avoid spicy food, smoking and alcohol can makes symptoms worse, with alcohol prone to aggravating the cell lining of the oesophagus.
Fats present in fried foods, fast foods and fatty meats can slow down the time taken for the stomach to empty its contents into the intestines. This slowing down leaves more time for food to travel up the oesophagus and more pressure on the stomach.
Ginger has a long tradition of helping with both acid reflux and sickness symptoms, try a ginger tea or a TPFC ginger biscuit.
Root vegetables, dark leafy greens and oats all have a high fibre content which can help combat GERD.