A condition that is not only related to pregnancy, but affects a large majority of the American population, is constipation. A healthy person should have two or three bowel movements a day (!) but this is rarely the case. Do not be shy of the topic, it is a very common problem and when you are pregnant it is even more likely to become a daily bathroom struggle.
The normal time food takes from intake to stool is 16 hours. When you are pregnant, food moves slower through your internal digestive system, caused by the increased levels of the hormone progesterone which relaxes the muscles in the digestive tract (and other smooth muscles throughout your body). This longer digestion time allows your body to absorb more nutrients from your food for both your baby and you. This causes bloating in the stomach and is likely to give you the sensation of heartburn and the tendency to burp. Later in your pregnancy, you will experience more discomfort in this area caused by the pressure of your growing uterus on your rectum. But the general rule is, pregnancy comes with slower, irregular digestion and/or constipation, so be prepared!
I have noticed that many people tend to solve their indigestion with laxatives, but they only work in the colon area and do not bring relief or a solution for the other areas of the digestive system. Besides that, over the counter medication is not recommended during pregnancy unless discussed with and agreed by your doctor. In my opinion, though, much can be done with a healthy diet and some digestion encouraging exercises.
- Fiber. In my humble opinion, the first thing to do is to include high-fiber foods into your diet such as whole wheat bread, wheat bran, high fiber cereals, brown rice, whole grain pasta, buckwheat noodles. I discovered sprouted bread and I think it is a great source of fiber. Furthermore, because the grains are sprouted before grind into flour, these breads are easier to digest and contain more nutrients in general. I think they are ideal.
- Other fiber rich foods such as legumes, lentils, beans and garbanzos are a great relief and support of the digestive system. Include them into your diet ideally on a daily basis. Besides high in fiber, legumes are rich in protein, folate, iron and calcium. I prefer them for lunch, so the legumes have time to digest during my active day hours. Eaten for dinner they tend to fill my stomach so much, that I cannot fall asleep so easily.
- Dried fruits, especially prunes and prune juice, can prove to be a great support in indigestion. I advice to drink only one glass of prune juice a day (its a strong laxative, do not ask how I found out..). Other dried fruits like dates, figs and apricots also provide a lot of fiber. Half a portion of dried fruits counts as one of the 3 fruit snacks you can eat in a day.
- Consuming plenty of water is absolutely necessary to keep your body healthy (pregnant or not). Ideal is to drink 6-8 glasses a day. Not only does it hydrate your body, skin and your vital organs, needed to function properly, it is also needed for blood cell production. Water can have a cooling as well as a soothing effect in cases of heartburn or nausea and is an important component for breast milk. In my opinion its ideal to help keeping the flow going (especially the waste flow), although you have to visit the bathroom unpractically often, it is worth it.
- Peppermint tea can also help to relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. I personally am not a huge fan of peppermint or peppermint tea, so I have yet to try if it works.
Read more about digestion stimulating exercises in my next blog.