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Yes, Pregnancy Can Actually Affect Your Digestion!

Written by Dr. Jatin Bhide on Wed, 16 November 2022

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If you are reading this article, you're probably pregnant or somebody around you is. In either case, congratulations! Pregnancy is a transformative experience for every woman. After all, you're bringing a new life into this world. However, this time is not without its challenges. The hormonal and physiological changes that come with pregnancy are unique. Let's take a look at some of the common changes seen in pregnancy.

The Hormonal Frenzy

Pregnancy can make your hormones go haywire. Estrogen and progesterone are the chief pregnancy hormones and their levels can drastically shoot up at times.
Here's a fun fact: You tend to produce more estrogen during one pregnancy than throughout your entire life when not pregnant!

Estrogen and progesterone are vital for the development of your baby who is still a fetus. You might also experience changes in the amount and function of several other hormones.

All these hormones can give you your 'pregnancy glow' and are important for your baby's growth inside your belly. What's the downside? These hormonal changes can affect your mood and even alter the physical impact of exercise and physical activity on the body.

With all the hormonal changes of pregnancy, you're bound to go a little crazy! Well, it's not just your mood that's a little out of sync. You might experience some digestive issues during your pregnancy as well.

Food aversions- where your favorite foods gross you out

Here's a situation that might sound familiar. You're a big fan of bacon but overnight, you feel like puking at the sight of it. You used to love sipping your tea in the morning, but suddenly you want to flip your cup in disgust. Wondering what's wrong with you? Don't worry, these are just your food aversions surfacing! Food aversions are possibly caused by the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).

The levels of this hormone keep changing throughout pregnancy causing morning sickness, nausea, and food aversions. You're most likely to experience food aversions during the first trimester. However, you can experience food aversions during pregnancy at any point in time. Common pregnancy aversions include meat, eggs, milk, onions, garlic, tea and coffee, spicy foods, etc.
Again, for some women, these foods can even cause food cravings!

Food cravings- that drive you crazy in the middle of the night

Tell us if this has been your situation for the past couple of days. Sending your partner out on a wild-goose chase for ice cream at 2 AM. Frantically searching for a recipe and calling your mom in the middle of the night for your childhood favorite curry. Or the time you decided to mix your popcorn with ketchup and whipped cream.

No, your taste buds haven't gone crazy! You've reached the stage where your food cravings have officially started. Some common foods you might crave include sweets, starchy carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and fast food, such as Chinese cuisine or pizza. Most of these cravings are harmless but it's best to watch what you eat to avoid any further issues such as heartburns, acidity, or an upset stomach.

However, if you start craving dangerous substances like soap, dirt, paint, sand, etc. you might have a condition called Pica. Pica is an eating disorder in which a person starts craving or eating substances that are not considered edible. Giving in to these cravings can be dangerous and can lead to various health conditions like intestinal blockages, nausea, stomach ache, diarrhea, and constipation.

Morning sickness can strike anytime!

This is probably the one everyone has heard of. Morning sickness refers to nausea and vomiting experienced by pregnant women. Most women experience morning sickness during the first trimester; however, some may experience it throughout their pregnancy. And yes, as opposed to what the name suggests, morning sickness can occur at any time of the day.

Some triggers for morning sickness include certain odors, spicy foods, heat, etc. The exact cause of morning sickness is not known. It is believed that the hormones progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) are at play here. Some psychological factors like anxiety, depression, undesired pregnancies, and negative relationships with family members can also contribute to morning sickness.

There's no one way to completely prevent morning sickness. However, triggers to avoid morning sickness during pregnancy such as strong odors, excessive fatigue, spicy foods, and foods high in sugar may help. Some medicines for preventing nausea may also help. Some serious consequences of morning sickness include an imbalance of electrolytes, dehydration, and hospitalization due to these reasons.

Hyperemesis gravidarum- the dark side of morning sickness

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form of morning sickness. This happens when someone with nausea and vomiting of pregnancy has severe symptoms. This may cause severe dehydration or result in the loss of more than 5% of pre-pregnancy body weight. Hyperemesis gravidarum may require hospitalization and treatment with intravenous (IV) fluids, medications, and rarely a feeding tube.

Constipation: Another roadblock of pregnancy

Constipation is a common symptom during pregnancy. It may occur in both the first and second trimesters but it's more prevalent during the second trimester. Hormone levels affect bowel movements which may be painful and can make your belly swell and bloated.

You're probably taking some prenatal vitamins. Some of these pills have iron. High iron levels can also contribute to constipation during pregnancy.

The best and safest way to deal with constipation is dietary changes. Including plenty of fibers in your diet is important. Consume 25-30 grams of fiber every day. Plant sources are your key to fiber, so make sure to eat plenty of fresh produce, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
 

Other things to remember are:

  • Avoid holding your bowel movements
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid sugary beverages as they make constipation worse
  • Exercise regularly to encourage movement in your bowels
  • Avoid taking any stool softener or other medications without consulting your gynecologist or other healthcare providers. Some of these medications can harm the baby and are contraindicated in pregnancy.

Gas troubles can blow up in your face

Gas can build up in your digestive system due to the hormones slowing down your digestion. Gas build-up can cause belly pain, cramps, burping, passing gas, etc. You can speed up your digestion by avoiding trigger foods like carbonated beverages, dairy products, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, garlic, spinach, potatoes, beans, and other high-fiber foods. It is important to note you only cut down on high-fiber foods if you don't have problems with constipation.

Your eating habits can also lead to gas build-up. Try eating smaller meals and eating slowly to avoid swallowing air. You can even speak to your doctor about taking some OTC medications.

Heartburn which has nothing to do with your heart

Heartburn during pregnancy occurs when the acid from the stomach rises and reaches your esophagus. You tend to feel an uncomfortable burning sensation in your throat and chest shortly after you eat. Even if you haven't experienced heartburn before, chances are that you will experience it during your pregnancy.

Here are some foods you should avoid to prevent heartburn: greasy, fatty, and fried foods, spicy foods, garlic, onions, caffeine, etc. Pregnancy hormones cause changes in the sensation of taste and smell of various foods, this has an impact on the eating habits of a pregnant woman. Random foods can trigger nausea and vomiting while certain odd foods can become a favorite during this period.

It is advised to avoid eating large meals and lying down right after eating. Elevate your pillow by 10-15 cm during bedtime to prevent heartburn at night. Contact your doctor if you experience heartburn more than twice per week. They may recommend you to take some antacids for relief.

You're probably apprehensive about all these digestive issues you are/ will be facing during your pregnancy. It can get scary, no doubt. But remember, most of these issues will resolve themselves by the time your baby is born , and it will all be uphill from there. Hang in there, your little miracle is on its way!

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Dr. Jatin Bhide

Dr Jatin Bhide is an Ayurvedic doctor with over 16 years of enriching experience in Marketing and Strategy across OTC/FMHG, herbal medicine and Nutraceuticals (Europe) industries. He did his Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) from Mumbai University, before moving on to do a Post Graduate Diploma in Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare Management.

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