During pregnancy your body goes through a number of physical and hormonal changes that affect your daily processes, such as digestion, mood and sleep. The most common discomforts of pregnancy include gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and changing or disrupted sleep patterns.
The good news is that there are some lifestyle changes that help reduce these symptoms.
Heartburn is characterised by a burning pain in the throat or chest. This is caused by acid in the stomach going up to the mouth and irritating the lining of the oesophagus which it passes through. The oesophagus is the tube that connects the mouth and stomach. Hence why heartburn is also known as gastro-oesophageal reflux. It is particularly common in the later stages of pregnancy and often occurs at night. This is due to the effect pregnancy hormones have on the oesophagus and the stomach.
Here are some recommendations to help reduce heartburn:
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals
- Avoid eating up to 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Sit up straight when eating and avoid lying down soon afterwards
- Limit consumption of fatty foods, spicy food, chocolate, caffeine and citrus juices
- Drink fluids between meals rather than with meals
Nausea and Vomiting
It is common to experience nausea from around 6-16 weeks during pregnancy.
Certain foods can help alleviate the symptoms of nausea and vomiting; these include:
- Consuming ginger
- The smell of lemons
- Consuming carbohydrate containing foods such as dry crackers
- It is also a good idea to avoid highly spiced or bitter foods
Headaches are generally most common during the first and third trimester. This is possibly due to the body producing an increased volume of blood. Other possible factors include inadequate sleep, stress, inappropriate posture and dehydration.
Recommendations to help reduce headache include:
- Ensure you get an adequate amount of sleep
- Maintaining good posture
- Ensure meals are balanced as per the plate model illustrated below.
The causes of insomnia are varied across different trimesters of pregnancy. The possible causes of insomnia include nausea, vomiting, urinary frequency and foetal movements.
Recommendations to help reduce insomnia include:
- Establish a routine with fixed sleep and wake cycles
- Avoid caffeine during the afternoon and evening
- Manage physical discomfort using pillows
- Avoid the use of electronic devices at least an hour before sleeping
‘Normal’ bowel function is not the same for everyone. Constipation is generally diagnosed as having less than three bowel motions per week and stools that are hard and difficult to pass. Although it doesn’t cause harm to the baby, it is important that constipation does not go untreated as the constraint strain of it can put pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. This can then lead to pelvic floor problems in the future. Constipation occurs during pregnancy as pregnancy hormones relax muscles throughout the body, including the digestive tract. Hence slowing down the time it takes for food to pass through the intestines. Constipation is also a common side effect of consuming iron tablets.
It is also important to ensure you are receiving enough fibre in your diet. This can be obtained from wholegrain breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, nuts, dry fruits and legumes. In general, the recommendation is to have two serves of fruit a day. One of those servings can come from prunes which are high in fibre and highly effective in resolving constipation. Six prunes make up one serve. If additional fibre is needed, bran or psyllium can be sprinkled over cereal in the morning. It is also important to ensure you have adequate fluid intake during pregnancy. This includes around 7-8 glasses of water.