Emotionally, you’re full of excitement. Physically, you’re probably starting to notice a few subtle changes that often appear very soon after conception. While constipation and heartburn are typical symptoms of early pregnancy, many women also suffer from them at a later stage1,4.
The villain to blame for constipation and heartburn in pregnancy is the hormone progesterone2,3. Your ovaries (and, after the 8th week, the baby’s placenta) produce a higher amount of this very important hormone when you are pregnant. Because progesterone also acts as a muscle relaxant, it can slow down the contractions in your intestines that move down the food. It also relaxes the valve between your stomach and your esophagus that usually prevents digestive acids from entering your food pipe. When that valve is relaxed, those digestive acids cause irritation in the food pipe, resulting in the uncomfortable sensation we call heartburn.
Pregnant women often move and exercise less while also increasing their iron and calcium supplementation, which can further contribute to constipation1. Later during pregnancy, your baby and uterus are growing large and can slow down the movement of your bowels2, and cause heartburn by pushing up your stomach.
Many women who suffer from constipation and/or heartburn during pregnancy use chemical laxatives (to cure constipation) or antacids (for heartburn relief). While they might provide short-term relief, it’s important to understand why they should be used with caution.
Antacids reduce stomach acid, but acid is necessary for digestion and absorption of protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. It also acts as a barrier that can prevent bad bacteria and other unwanted microorganisms from getting further into our digestive tract 5.
Laxatives can potentially stimulate the muscles of the uterus, cause intestinal cramping3, create a dependency or lead to electrolyte imbalances2.
There are better, gentler, more natural and long-term ways to cure heartburn and constipation during pregnancy. Your best bet is to help your digestive system be as healthy and functional as possible2,5. To restore and maintain a natural gastric balance, try these tips:
1 Make sure you drink plenty of water. You should be drinking clean, pure, natural water. This is especially important in our Australian hot and/or dry climates. If your body is properly hydrated, it can do all of its many jobs better, including digesting your food. This is basic but most important nutrition advice, whether you are pregnant or not.
2 Exercise regularly. The more you move, the better for your body’s vitality. Go for walks, do yoga or stretching, go swimming, or play another sport of your choice. It will help to improve your digestion!
3 Avoid processed foods, sugars, caffeine and alcohol. That is a good idea during pregnancy anyway. Reduce or eliminate these items from your diet and you and your baby will benefit from both a healthier lifestyle and better nutrition.
4 Choose organic food. If you don’t task your liver and digestive system with eliminating toxic chemicals, they can focus more on digesting important nutrients from fresh and nourishing organic foods.
5 Get beneficial bacteria (probiotics) from your diet – eat cultured and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kefir, and yoghurt.
If you follow these five tips, you will improve or dissolve digestive symptoms of pregnancy. A healthy digestive system and a nourished physical body are the foundations for great energy levels, healthy fetal development and general well being! Taking care for your baby feels wonderful and is satisfying, and it should start before she is born.
If you are already following these five tips but your symptoms are not improving, you might consider seeing an integrative (holistic) medical practitioner or a natural therapist. They can help you pinpoint other causes for your symptoms, eg medications, anti-depressants and antibiotics which are known to cause heartburn.
- Jewell DJ, Young G, Interventions for treating constipation in pregnancy.Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2001;(2):CD001142
- (2) Longo SA, Moore RC, Canzoneri BJ, Robichaux A., Gastrointestinal conditions during pregnancy. Clin Colon Rectal Surg 2010;23(2):80–9.
- (3) West L, Warren J, Cutts T., Diagnosis and management of irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and diarrhea in pregnancy. Gastroenterol Clin North Am, 1992;21(4):793–802.
- (4) AliRAEganLJGastroesophageal reflux disease in pregnancyBest Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol2007215793806
- (5) www.westonaprice.org