Pregnancy is a time when a woman’s body goes through many physical and physiological changes. Not only does her anatomy change to accommodate the growing fetus, but her hormone levels shift as well. In many cases, these changes produce digestive issues. While they typically aren’t dangerous to the mother or her unborn baby, they can be very unpleasant. Fortunately, there are steps a woman can take to prevent, minimize or eliminate the symptoms.
Common Digestive Issues that Occur During Pregnancy
If you’re pregnant, it’s likely that you’ll encounter one or more of the gastrointestinal (GI) conditions below.
Nausea and vomiting
In the first trimester of pregnancy, 50-80 percent of women experience nausea and vomiting. Also known as “morning sickness,” the condition is very common early in a pregnancy but typically subsides by the second trimester. If it doesn’t, you should talk with your doctor. A rare but more serious condition called hyperemesis gravidarum can cause severe nausea and vomiting that affects your electrolytes. It may require medical treatment.
With common morning sickness, typically no treatment is needed. You can minimize your symptoms by:
- Eating smaller meals more often
- Cutting back on fatty foods and fresh vegetables, as they slow the rate at which food leaves the stomach
- Drinking plenty of water
- Getting adequate amounts of vitamin B1 and vitamin B6
Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), heartburn affects approximately half of women by the time they reach the third trimester. The burning sensation in the chest that occurs after eating is the result of stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. Hormonal changes that relax the sphincter at the top of the stomach and pressure from the growing fetus make GERD more common in pregnancy.
To prevent or decrease heartburn symptoms:
- Eat smaller meals more often
- Don’t recline soon after eating
- Use antacids
- Use over-the-counter medications like H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors, as directed by your doctor
Approximately 40 percent of women experience constipation during their pregnancy. This occurs because hormonal changes slow the movement of food through the lower GI tract, allowing the body to absorb more water from the stool and making it more difficult to pass.
To prevent or relieve constipation, you can:
- Increase your water intake
- Eat foods high in fiber
- Take an over-the-counter stool softener
- Take an over-the-counter laxative, if constipation is severe
Diarrhea is defined as three or more bowel movements per day. Approximately 35 percent of women will experience this condition at some point in their pregnancy. It’s typically related to an infection and resolves on its own in a few days.
If you develop diarrhea, be sure to:
- Consume plenty of water to prevent dehydration
- Contact your doctor if it’s accompanied by increased vaginal discharge of mucus or low back pain, as these can be indicators of preterm labor
GI issues can take some of the joy out of being pregnant. But by taking steps to address any issues that arise, and getting advice from your doctor as needed, you can spend more of your time free of symptoms.
Baptist’s Patient-Centered Maternity Care Focuses on You. Baptist Health has a passion for helping moms live out the positive labor and delivery experience they imagine. Across eight locations in Kentucky and southern Indiana, each of our facilities offers unique innovations that help the families in our care realize that reality.