Pregnant with tummy troubles? Let us explain changes to your gastrointestinal system in pregnancy, and what you can do to feel better!
Progesterone, a pregnancy hormone, slows down the GI tract, which can have many unpleasant side effects. Bloating and constipation are two frequent side effects of this. Pressure from the pregnant uterus can impede passage through the intestines, which also slows things down.
Many pregnancy women are on vitamins and iron supplements which are culprits in causing constipation as well.
Luckily, there are many safe ways to combat constipation. We recommend increasing high-fiber foods and water intake. Getting regular exercise can also help. Laxatives which are “bulk-forming,” such as ones containing psyllium or methylcellulose, are over the counter and are safe. Stimulant laxatives should be avoided if possible.
Reflux is very common, affecting more than half of pregnancy women.
This is caused by changes in the muscle tone between the esophagus and stomach. The good news is that reflux usually subsides postpartum, and rarely has lasting effects.
To treat reflux, we recommend avoidance of spicy or acidic foods, or other foods which you find trigger your symptoms. Also, elevating the head of the bed slightly can help. Your doctor can prescribe antacids to help control your symptoms.
Nauseous? You’re not alone!
Up to 90% of pregnant women experience some degree of nausea in pregnancy, most commonly during the first trimester.
There are many factors which contribute to pregnancy-related nausea, including the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The pregnancy hormone hCG is also thought to play a role. This hormone is at its highest in the first trimester, when nausea is typically at its worst.
Genetics also plays a part in pregnancy-related nausea. Women who experienced nausea with one pregnancy are more likely to have it again during the next pregnancy. Also, women whose sisters and mothers experienced nausea in pregnancy are more likely to have symptoms.
Nausea is usually at its worst around 8-10 weeks, and for most women, is nearly gone by 20 weeks.
Only a small percentage of pregnant women continue to be nauseous throughout the entire pregnancy.
The most severe and rare form of pregnancy-related nausea is called Hyperemesis. This is diagnosed by weight loss and electrolyte abnormalities, and occasionally requires hospitalization.
Treating Nausea During Pregnancy
Treatment of nausea during pregnancy can be frustrating. Lifestyle changes can help somewhat. Avoiding an empty stomach can be helpful, as well as taking in small sips of fluids throughout the day. It is important to identify, and avoid, triggers of nausea. Examples of triggers are heat, odors such as perfume and tobacco smoke, and fatigue. Some supplements can also trigger nausea.
If your symptoms are severe, speak with your doctor or midwife. Products containing ginger, such as tea and lollipops, help some women. Your doctor may recommend pyrodoxine (vitamin B6) and doxylamine succinate, a combination that is safe and effective.
About Lindsey Deschamps, MD
Dr. Lindsey Deschamps is a board certified OB hospitalist at WakeMed North Women’s Hospital.