Managing pregnancy digestive issues

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Gas, constipation and heartburn can sometimes take the joy away from pregnancy.

When you hear those words, ‘Congrats you are pregnant’ or ‘Look there on the screen, that little peanut is your baby’, your world is changed in an instant. You are growing a little human life inside your body.

Up until now every organ inside your body had a space and place but suddenly this little invader starts taking over. It is not rocket science that tells you if you throw an object into a full glass of water something has to give – the water will most likely spill over. Similarly, your growing baby is going to displace every organ in your body and especially your digestive system.

These are the often the unspoken pregnancy niggles. We don’t really talk about them over dinner or even with our partner. They don’t make great social media shares and may not be the primary topic that will increase our Instagram following. Yet just as much as that growing bump and pregnancy glow is a reality so are these.

Why Oh Why do we have to be faced with these ailments?  To top it off, these ailments often start a month into the honeymoon phase. That’s just wrong – yesterday you were glowing, today you have gas and are constipated.

Well there is a logical explanation and that is because your whole digestive system is the one that ‘involuntarily volunteered’ to be pushed aside. Let’s face it, the heart needs to stay in place as do the lungs, liver and kidneys. So it’s down to the digestive system – bottom of the food chain (excuse the pun) to take one for the team.

This means there is less room in the stomach for food so you will get fuller quicker and should you miss this cue, you will be setting yourself up for heartburn. Heartburn occurs when the little valve that closes off the stomach opens up and food content with acid goes slightly up out the stomach and into the oesophagus. This causes a very uncomfortable burning sensation.

What can you do?

Finally head for your grandmother’s advice – eat slowly and chew your food 30 times. This will allow you to hear your body’s cues – something we all can relearn. It’s not so much WHAT you eat but HOW you eat to assist with heartburn management. Foods that take longer to digest like fats and protein should be eaten in small quantities and at each meal time so scattered throughout the day.

Focus on more soluble fibre foods like cooked veggies and digestive foods like paw-paw or banana. Grating hard fruits like apple and pear also make them easier to digest. Eat richer foods in the early part of day and eat more gentle grains towards the end of day like rice, pasta and oats etc. 6-8 small little meals over the day work wonders with 1-2 smoothies thrown in the mix.

Let’s face it, unless you are a teenage boy in your prime, gas is not seen as an achievement no matter what side it comes up or down. So think about this – our intestines are about 7 m long, considering the average length of an abdomen is 500 cm – there is a whole lot more intestine than abdomen to start off. So during pregnancy when your intestines are pushed into all weird and wonderful spaces the chance of gas pouches are enormous. It’s like a conspiracy – your body now has gas storage zones and can call on them at the least convenient and often most embarrassing time.

Is there anything you can do about this?


Naturally gas forming foods

Firstly go easy on foods that are naturally gas forming like cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli stalks (not the florets) and ground beans.

Posture and movement

The more you stretch out your abdomen the more space you allow every organ and everyone inhabiting it in the moment. So sitting upright and doing some yoga like exercise, walking strong and tall and getting up and moving around regularly all help.

Then lastly – the dreaded constipation.

When your colon is backed into a corner, the one way it retaliates is to just refuse to do its work. A colon needs to work by peristalsis which means contracting and relaxing at regular coordinated intervals. When twisted and stuck between the liver and a growing baby, there is not much hope for a coordinated effort. Constipation is often the result.

However you can help by doing three things:

Move – walking, stretching and doing gentle activity definitely allows the colon to coordinate better.

Drinking water – the more liquid that goes through the colon the easier it is to get the contents around the bends and twists.

Eat soft gentle fibres – eating cooked veggies, soft fruits and whole grains like oats and spelt and stone ground flour products can definitely help stimulate colon movement. Be careful of very harsh fibre grains as these can also cause more blockage than movement.

And at the end of the day, if all else fails, this too will pass and these niggles will become distant memories as sleepless nights and exhaustion takeover.  Seriously when you hold your little one in your arms for the first time and look into those precious eyes and hold that sweet tiny hand in yours – the gas, heartburn and constipation will seem like a small price to pay for the little miracle that made his home in your body for 9 months and in your heart forever.

More on the expert

Kath Megaw, Clinical Paediatric Dietician, BSc Dietetics Hons, Diploma Paediatric Dietetics

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