GUT Health In Pregnancy
From the moment you find out you are pregnant your whole body starts to rapidly change to make room for the growing and developing baby. One of the most common first signs that you are pregnant is tender swollen breasts, mild cramping, spotting and constipation. Constipation occurs as the uterus begins to expand, progesterone levels increase and the digestives system starts to slow down. Once ovulation has occurred and an egg has been fertilised, progesterone levels start to increase to support the pregnancy and to thicken the uterine lining. Progesterone is what causes the slowing down of the digestive system, preventing preterm delivery of the baby and to nourish the baby until the placenta is fully developed at 12-weeks.
Constipation, gas, bloating, nausea, acid reflux and a decrease in appetite are common digestive symptoms experienced in the first trimester. Constipation can mean you are unable to pass a bowel movement more than 3x a week and for some people it can be a lot more severe. Constipation is unlikely to cause any harm to the growing baby; however, it can be increasingly uncomfortable for the mother and can start to make you feel quite unwell. Regular bowel movements will reduce gas and bloating, increase your energy levels, allow for greater absorption of nutrients and increase your appetite to ensure the baby is receiving the nutrients they require.
Morning/all day sickness and nausea can play havoc on your diet and rightly so you are more inclined to reach for plain, carbohydrate rich foods. These foods tend to be white breads, pasta, pastries, crackers, cereals and grains that lack in fibre and nutrients. At times this may be all you can stomach and something is better than nothing, as long as you are taking a good prenatal vitamin with folic acid and essential nutrients required for a healthy pregnancy. (See article on pregnancy supplements). However, try to make some swaps to complex carbohydrate and fibre rich sources where possible.
How to Reduce Constipation in Pregnancy
Fibre – is required to support a healthy digestive system and to support a healthy, diverse Gut Microbiome. In pregnancy the intake of fibre-rich foods can lower the risk of diabetes, preeclampsia as well as improving constipation. Fibre helps balance blood sugar levels, lowers blood pressure and reduces total serum cholesterol levels. Fibre feeds the gut microbiome, creating bulk and allowing for the passing of solid stools. Recent studies have also looked at the correlation between high fibre diets in pregnant women and decreased allergies in later development of children. Fibre rich foods to include in your pregnancy are as follows:
Wholegrains such as Brown rice, Wholemeal bread, Whole wheat flour
Rye Bread, Sourdough
Vegetables such as Sweet Potatoes, Kale, Cavalo Nero, Cabbage, Brussel Sprouts, Parsnips, Cauliflower
Fruits such as Avocado, Apples, Berries, Bananas, Pears
Legumes such as Chickpeas, Lentils, Beans, Split peas, Quinoa, Oats
Hydration- is essential in reducing constipation and allowing for stools to soften and pass easily. Dry hard stools require adequate hydration and water to allow for movement. Two litres of water a day is required to keep well hydrated and to alleviate constipation. Water is also required for the placenta, amniotic fluid and for the increased blood volume. Hydration is also essential in pregnancy when suffering from morning sickness and nausea.
Movement – in pregnancy can be incredibly beneficial for Gut Health as well as improving your overall health and wellbeing. High intensity exercise, hot sweaty workouts should now be out the window, however walking, gentle jogging, swimming, pre-natal yoga are all great ways to keep your body moving. Stagnation occurs when we are sedentary for too long, movement will keep your bowels working and encourage peristalsis to occur (contraction of the bowel muscles).
Probiotics - have been found to be beneficial in maintaining a healthy Gut microbiome for both mother and baby throughout pregnancy and birth. Probiotics make significant changes to the Gut Microbiota, throughout pregnancy the mother’s microbiome undergoes specific changes increasing gut permeability. There is evidence to suggest that probiotics can support the mother’s immune system with further research required to highlight the positive benefits associated with infant immunity. If you are considering taking probiotics in pregnancy to support Gut Health then always check with your GP, Nutritional Therapist or Midwife first.
In the first trimester of pregnancy constipation is a common symptom that can persist throughout the entirety of your pregnancy. Constipation can be uncomfortable, painful and inhibit the absorption of vital nutrients required for your baby’s development. Fibre is the most important nutrient to alleviate symptoms of constipation. It is important to increase your water intake when increasing fibre to alleviate further bloating and discomfort. If you are struggling with sever constipation and unable to pass a bowel movement for a significant period of time then consult your GP or seek advice from a qualified Nutritional Therapist or Midwife.