Side Effects of Pregnancy, Digestive Problems During Pregnancy - FamilyEducation

Trials and Tribulations of Having a Baby

Read about the side effects of pregnancy, including constipation and morning sickness. Find tips for managing common problems during pregnancy.

Common Side Effects of Pregnancy
Food for Thought

Getting enough folic acid can drastically reduce the risk for babies developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida. So fill up on the green leafy veggies and get prenatal vitamin that supplies folic acid.

When embarking on the road to motherly bliss, some women glow and others, shall I say, turn green. I was one of the unlucky green women. Although agonizing and uncomfortable (to put it mildly), these lousy side effects, including constipation, nausea, water retention, and heartburn, are merely normal pregnancy occurrences and most certainly worth the beautiful end product.

The “Uh-Oh, Better Get Drano” Feeling

Most pregnant women experience the constipation blues at one time or another during the nine-month haul. Why does food tend to stop dead in its tracks before reaching its final destination anyway? Unfortunately, there are a bunch of explanations:

  • Hormonal changes
  • The increased pressure on your intestinal tract as your baby grows
  • All of the extra iron in your prenatal supplements
  • Not enough fiber in your diet
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Plain old lack of exercise
Sometimes, the increased iron can cause constipation, diarrhea, dark-colored stools, and abdominal discomfort. Be sure to increase your fiber and fluids and move around as much as possible.

Yes, it's true that the first three circumstances are completely uncontrollable, but let's focus on the last three: fiber, fluid, and exercise, which are quite controllable and can dramatically decrease your plumbing problems.

First, increase your dietary fiber by eating more fresh fruit, veggies, and whole-grain foods. Better yet, Read How Much Fiber Do You Need in Your Diet?for tips for boosting your daily intake of fiber. Next, drink a ton of fluids.

Ugh! That Nagging Nausea

Commonly known as “morning sickness,” the awful nausea and vomiting can occur at any time of the day, so don't be misled. One bit of reassuring news: although horridly unpleasant, it's normal and thought to simply be a side effect from the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy. If you're on a first-name basis with your toilet, hang in there; the nausea usually disappears by week 14.

Here are some tips to help reduce the nausea:

  • Nibble on carbohydrate-rich foods throughout the day. They are easy to digest and will provide your body with some energy (calories). For example, bagels, pretzels, crackers, cereal, and rice cakes are all primo snacks.
  • If you tend to be nauseated in the early morning, keep some of the preceding carbs by your bed. Pop something into your mouth before getting up; this will start the digestive process and get rid of excess stomach acid.
  • Most women find cold foods easier to tolerate than hot foods; however, everyone is unique. What makes one woman sick might be soothing to another. In other words, listen to your own body and go ahead with whatever works best for you.
  • Avoid any sharp cooking odors, and open the windows for some fresh air.
  • When you just can't take solid foods, suck on an ice pop or frozen fruit bars or sip on lemonade and fruit juice.
  • Avoid high-fat foods because they sit in your stomach longer and can exacerbate the nausea.
  • Sometimes, iron supplements can intensify nausea. If you are taking iron pills, take them with a snack or two hours after a meal with some ginger ale. If the nausea persists, you might also want to speak with your doctor about possibly holding off on the iron until you feel better.
  • Do not take prenatal vitamins on an empty stomach; take them with a meal or snack.

Contact your doctor immediately if you have persistent vomiting, are losing weight, or are too nauseated to take in fluids.

What's All the Swelling About?

Edema is the uncomfortable swelling, or retention of water, that occurs primarily in your feet, ankles, and hands during pregnancy. As long as there's no increase in blood pressure or protein in the urine, edema is normal and unfortunately tends to get worse in the last trimester. However, there is no need to panic; most of this bothersome fluid will be lost during and shortly after your baby's delivery.

Get some relief from the effects of edema:

  • Lie down with your feet elevated on a pillow.
  • Remove all of your tight rings.
  • Wear loose, comfortable shoes.
  • Ease up on the salty stuff such as sauerkraut, pickles, soy sauce, salty pretzels, and chips.
  • Never restrict your fluid intake; always continue to drink plenty of fluids.

Oh, My Aching Heart

Contrary to the name, heartburn is actually a burning sensation in your lower esophagus that is usually accompanied by a sour taste. Although this dreadful feeling can happen at any time during your pregnancy, it's most common toward the last few months, when your baby is rapidly growing and exerting pressure on your stomach and uterus. What's more, during pregnancy, the valve between your stomach and esophagus can become relaxed, making it easy for the food to occasionally reverse directions.

Some simple remedies to ease heartburn:

  • Relax and eat your food slowly.
  • Instead of eating a lot at one sitting, eat several smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Limit fluids with meals, but increase fluids between meals.
  • Chew gum or suck candy. Of course, your dentist will hate me, but it can help to neutralize the acid.
  • Never lie flat after you have eaten. In fact, keep your head elevated when you sleep with the help of extra pillows and by placing a couple of books underneath the mattress to help tilt it slightly upward.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing. Stick with items that are loose and comfortable.
  • Stand up and walk around. This can help encourage your gastric juices to flow in the right direction.
  • Keep a log and track some foods that might be triggering your heartburn. Some common culprits include regular and decaf coffee, colas, spicy foods, greasy fried foods, chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, and tomato-based products.
  • Do not take any antacids without your doctor's approval.
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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Total Nutrition


Read articles and find tips and useful information on communicating, bonding, and dealing with teenagers. Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Total Nutrition © 2005 by Joy Bauer. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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