Every woman wants an easy pregnancy, but for most women, pregnancy can come with a variety of uncomfortable side effects due to the biological changes occurring inside the body. Fortunately, for every digestive issue that comes with pregnancy, there are remedies.
More Than Just “Morning Sickness”
Pop culture has made “morning sickness” part of how we portray pregnancy, especially the first trimester. This is based on fact, with 50 percent of women experiencing nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, likely caused by hormonal changes and an increase in HCG and estrogen (estradiol) levels. A somewhat luckier 25 percent are spared actual vomiting and only experience nausea, while the luckiest 25 percent are unaffected. While nausea and vomiting is common, I do ask my patients to tell me about any associated symptoms that may indicate a separate underlying condition.
There are plenty of non-pharmacological methods that combat nausea and vomiting. Taking prenatal vitamins for three months prior to conception may help prevent symptoms during pregnancy. I recommend eating small meals every one to two hours, avoiding spicy and fatty foods and drinking plenty of water. You can also eat a few plain crackers before you get out of bed in the morning, as well as add ginger or peppermint tea and lozenges to your daily routine. If these methods aren’t making an impact, your doctor may recommend vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), combined with doxylamine as a first line treatment and move to other medications if the nausea and vomiting persists or becomes more severe.
Acid Reflux (Even if You Don’t Eat the Whole Thing!)
Intense heartburn and acid reflux is a familiar feeling to many people who regularly eat spicy foods. During pregnancy, this is caused by increased pressure from the growing uterus, and a rise in progesterone, which releases the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach contents into the esophagus.
My first recommendation to my patients is to make lifestyle modifications. Eat smaller meals and drink water before and after, not during the meal. Avoid greasy and spicy foods, as well as caffeine and chocolate. Try not to lie down immediately after eating, but if you must, keep your head raised and your upper body at an angle. Tums, or a similar antacid are a safe first line treatment. If these don’t relieve your acid reflux, try Pepcid or Zantac. If symptoms are persistent and severe, a PPI such as Protonix may be an option, but should be discussed with your doctor.
Bowel Movements: Approaching a Touchy Subject
Bowel movements (BMs) are a naturally occurring part of life. However, pregnancy can complicate the normal digestive process, as an increase in progesterone causes relaxation of the smooth muscle of the bowel that slows the digestive system. This can result in significant pain and discomfort, leading to bloating, cramping and feeling full. Not to mention the inability to have a healthy BM.
The best thing you can do is to stay hydrated (I recommend at least eight, 8-oz glasses of water per day), and increase your fiber intake by adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and flax seeds to your diet. Staying active can also help, even if it’s just a few extra minutes of walking per day. If you’re still experiencing constipation, talk to your doctor. Stool softeners such as Colace (docusate sodium) are safe and can be used daily to prevent reoccurrence. If symptoms persist, a short course of laxatives can help, though your doctor needs to be aware.
Digestive Problems ARE Treatable
With modern medicine, combined with a better understanding of women’s health and natural remedies, pregnant women don’t have to suffer in silence. I strongly recommend listening to your body and being open with your OB/GYN about what you’re experiencing, even if it’s embarrassing. Remember, your body is going through an incredible change! It’s normal not to feel normal, but by working with your doctor you can lessen the impact on your daily life, and get back to preparing for your new arrival.
** This blog post was written to serve as guidance for treatment of digestive problems during pregnancy and should not be taken as concrete medical advice, nor do the views above reflect the views of Colorado Complete Health for Women or the HealthONE organization. As with any medical questions or concerns, please make an appointment with your physician to discuss your own personal situation and treatment options.
Dr. Margarita “Rita” Roykhman is a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist who practices at Colorado Complete Health for Women in Aurora, Colo. She completed her undergraduate degree at Saint Louis University and then received her doctorate from Creighton University School of Medicine. While she provides all routine obstetric and gynecological services, Dr. Roykhman has a special interest in adolescent care, contraception management, minimally invasive surgery and da Vinci Robotics. Above all, Dr. Roykhman enjoys getting to know her patients well and forming strong patient-physician relationships. In her free time, Dr. Roykhman enjoys spending time with her husband, skiing, outdoor activities and playing the piano.