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Digestive Problems in Pregnancy

Most pregnant women experience digestive problems as side effects. Explore problems during pregnancy and the causes of nausea, vomiting, gastroenteritis, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, and hemorrhoids, plus get the top tips for relief.
Causes of Digestive Problems in Pregnancy

In this article, you will find:

Nausea, vomiting, and gastroenteritis
Indigestion, heartburn, constipation, and hemorrhoids

Nausea, vomiting, and gastroenteritis

Nausea and vomiting

Approximately 80 percent of women are troubled by the unpleasant symptoms of nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. During this period it can be difficult to eat large meals, and strong smells and tastes can become unbearable. Many women also find some vegetable and acidic foods more difficult to digest and worry that their usually healthy eating pattern has deteriorated. Early pregnancy nausea and vomiting usually subside between 12 and 20 weeks; however it's not uncommon to experience some return of these problems late in the pregnancy.


Early in pregnancy, the pregnancy hormones interact with hormones that control other body systems, particularly those involved with blood sugar regulation, and this results in feelings of nausea and vomiting. Late in pregnancy, problems with digestion may occur because the uterus takes up most of the space in your abdomen, displacing your intestines and stomach and leaving little room for the digestion of large amounts of food.

What to do

The best way to manage the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy is to drink plenty of water throughout the day and also eat small amounts of food on a regular basis, which will help to avoid long gaps between meals, and snacking on complex carbohydrates such as whole-wheat and whole-grain products, whole-grain cereals, and brown rice dishes. Avoid snacks with a high sugar content because, although these will give you a quick boost, they will soon leave you feeling worse than before because your blood sugar plummets. Reducing your overall intake of the refined sugar found in candy, cake, cookies, and sugary drinks will help reduce the symptoms of nausea and vomiting and will also lessen your risk of developing gestational diabetes.

The "little and often" principle, coupled with healthy snacks is equally good advice for the late phase of pregnancy.


This is inflammation of the lining of the stomach and intestines, most commonly due to infection. It causes vomiting and diarrhea that usually come on suddenly. In most cases, the condition clears up on its own and is not a cause for concern. However, if it's severe, you could become dehydrated, and this can affect blood flow to your baby through the placenta. Infection with listeria bacteria can, rarely, cause late miscarriage.


Gastroenteritis is caused by infection contracted either through contact with an infected person, or by consuming contaminated food or drink (food poisoning). Food poisoning is often the result of poor food hygiene.

What to do

Drink plenty of water, and try to avoid cross infection with other members of the household (see Avoiding gastroenteritis). If you're unable to retain even small sips of water, or your vomiting and diarrhea have lasted for 24 hours, you should seek medical advice from your doctor. If you can't reach your doctor, go the nearest hospital emergency room for treatment. If you have a preexisting medical condition such as diabetes, you should seek help immediately. You may be treated with intravenous fluids if you are dehydrated, and fetal monitoring may be done to check the health of your baby. Infection with listeria is treated with antibiotics.

Avoiding gastroenteritis

It is important that you try to avoid gastroenteritis by practicing good food hygiene (see Dietary precautions).

If someone else in your household has gastroenteritis, avoid infection by using separate soap, towels, cutlery, and dishes. If you have more than one toilet, get the infected person to use one separate from the rest of the household. Wipe toilets, sinks, and faucets with a mild bleach solution after each use. Infected individuals should also avoid preparing food for others.

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