Pregnancy is a beautiful, natural process. It does come with some physical challenges, though. This article will look at common woes experienced by pregnant women and how we can manage them with exercise, holistic nutrition, and other practices. Ones we will discuss here are nausea and vomiting, heartburn, constipation/diarrhea, leg cramps, and anxiety.
Despite its name, “morning sickness” is extremely common and can occur at any time of day. According to the Government of Canada, some 85% of women experience nausea and vomiting during pregnancy! (1) This would include a small number of women who are diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a severe form of morning sickness.
While no one exactly knows what causes nausea during pregnancy, it’s believed to be caused by the increase in hCG, human chorionic gonadotropin hormone that’s produced during pregnancy. It’s extremely high in the first 12-14 weeks of pregnancy, so positive correlation is shown between concentrations of hCG and nausea (2). Elevated levels of both estrogen and progesterone also may be a factor for nausea, vomiting, and HG.
While your doctor might be quick to prescribe a medication for nausea, there are a few things you can try at home before resorting to this.
- Stabilize blood sugar: low blood sugar tends to increase nausea in pregnancy, so eating every 2-3 hours is a helpful way to prevent it. Eating fats and proteins for meals and snacks will also help to stabilize blood sugar. Consider the following snacks to keep on hand: nuts, seeds, fruit, almond butter, grass-fed cottage cheese and yogurt, hard boiled eggs, homemade guacamole with vegetables, protein bars, etc. When you inevitably wake in the middle of the night to urinate, have a snack during this time as well (keep some almonds and pumpkin seeds by your bed, and eat a handful).
- Adequate protein: this will help to stabilize blood sugar and provide sufficient protein for both you and the developing baby. Your body has increased needs for so many nutrients during pregnancy, and insufficient protein is linked to nausea. An interesting study in 2010 looked at women with morning sickness and those without, and showed that those without, had greater levels of dietary protein (via meat products), zinc, magnesium, and B12 (3). They also seemed to consume lower carbohydrate diets than the subjects with self-reported morning sickness. Carbohydrates are important, but make sure you are consuming adequate protein with your carbohydrates to stabilize your blood sugar. While it may be difficult to consume certain foods due to food aversions, it’s essential that you prioritize protein. If this means consuming more plant-based or vegetarian sources of protein, try to work in foods like eggs, grass-fed organic dairy products (cow, goat, etc) like yogurt and cottage cheese, legumes (lentils, beans), whole grains (quinoa, rice, etc), nuts and seeds.
- Ginger: this is the most well-known herb for combatting nausea, and not only during pregnancy. It is also a safe herb to take during early pregnancy, unlike many herbs. Consider having several cups of ginger tea with a squirt of lemon each day, taking a ginger tincture, cooking the ground spice into foods, or taking a supplement of no more than 250mg of ginger root. You can take ginger in the evening before bed to promote digestion and prevent early morning sickness. You can sip on ginger tea throughout the day to relieve the symptoms. Homemade tea with fresh ginger will be the most potent form as opposed to pre-made and dried tea, but do what you can.
- B6: this is actually an ingredient in some anti-nausea medications for pregnancy, because it’s well known to help prevent nausea. A common dose that a doctor or midwife would recommend would be up to 25mg, three times daily. B6 is usually included in a regular prenatal, so be sure to factor this into your dosage calculation.
- Rethink your prenatal vitamins: these supplements have a lot of vitamins and minerals packed into one capsule, which can contribute to a lot of nausea and digestive upset. Consider smaller prenatal vitamins that you take more often throughout the day, and ensure you are taking a high quality supplement; lower quality supplements made with synthetic vitamins and minerals are much harder on the stomach. Everything carried by Nutrition Dispensary is a high quality supplement and therefore less likely to give you digestive issues. Take prenatal vitamins WITH FOOD.
- Use your essential oils diffuser: although you should avoid herbal teas in trimester one, essential oils are safe when diffused. Scents like lemon and peppermint can be helpful for nausea and vomiting, and are uplifting overall.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy contribute to quite a few digestive complaints during pregnancy, and during the third trimester when the baby is large and pressing against digestive organs, heartburn is common. Symptoms of heartburn (or indigestion) include burping, the classic burning sensation in the chest after eating, feeling bloated, and more.
During pregnancy, many muscles relax in order to prepare the body for labour or as a result of increased hormones, including the esophageal sphincter at the top of the stomach. Because this muscle is relaxed, it cannot prevent stomach acids and stomach contents from moving back up into the esophagus, so you get heartburn or other feelings of indigestion. A few suggestions to help with heartburn include:
- remaining upright after eating for at least 30-60 minutes and not eating directly before bed
- cutting down on caffeine and any food triggers like acidic foods, fatty/fried foods
- eating smaller, more frequent meals as opposed to large meals
- sleeping with your head more elevated than your feet (ex. placing a pillow under your shoulders)
- For severe heartburn, try 1/4tsp of sodium bicarbonate dissolved in water (use this as an emergency measure)
Digestive Issues (Constipation, Diarrhea)
With the increase of hormones, and the digestive muscles relaxing, digestive issues are inevitable in pregnancy. Many women complain of constipation, while others have the opposite issue. For constipation:
- Eat a higher fibre diet of whole grains, organic legumes, nuts and seeds, and lots of vegetables and fruit which help regulate bowel movements
- Drink 8-10 glasses of water daily
- Before bed, prepare 1 tsp of flaxseed in a glass of water, and drink when you wake up.
- Limit fried/fatty foods and other food triggers specific to you
- Increase fibre and whole foods intake
- Limit caffeine which is a natural laxative
- In the second and third trimesters only: drink a cup of peppermint tea after dinner, which soothes the digestive system
The cause of these are not fully known, but it’s possible that leg cramps are caused by deficiencies in important nutrients like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. The body will pull these nutrients from the mother’s supply to support the baby, so this is a logical reason for these deficiencies. A high quality prenatal vitamin will help to protect against leg cramps, but eating the following foods will increase these nutrients as well:
- Almonds, leafy greens, dark chocolate for magnesium (in addition to a warm epsom salt bath)
- Leafy green vegetables, sardines, and organic, grass-fed dairy for calcium
- Bananas, winter squash, potatoes, and avocados for potassium
- Legumes, whole grains, and a variety of vegetables for B vitamins
Additionally, restless legs can be caused by low iron (another common pregnancy deficiency!) in addition to these mineral deficiencies. Up your iron intake with nutrition (as well as a supplement, if needed). Foods rich in iron include:
- Grass-fed, free-range red meat, poultry, and pork
- Wild fish and shellfish
- Leafy greens, especially spinach (although these contain non-heme iron, so are not as absorbable)
- Legumes, nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds and lentils)
- Whole grains, especially quinoa
- Dark chocolate! Ensure you are eating something with over 70% cocoa from a sustainable source
Bringing another life into the world is a major transformation. Pair this with the influx of hormones, and it’s a great recipe for anxiety for the pregnant mother. Many women report feeling anxious during trimester 3 thinking about their labour, but anxiety can strike at any point during the pregnancy, because it’s an extremely natural reaction to a huge, transformative experience that’s already begun.
Practices like prenatal yoga, stretching, deep breathing, journaling, and exercise in general can be helpful, as well as talking it out with your partner, friends, or other moms. Consider finding a network online of new moms or moms-to-be with whom you can share your anxieties. Journaling your fears can be very helpful for getting out your thoughts on paper so that your mind can rest, especially in the evenings.
A high quality diet can also help with anxiety. A high sugar, high carbohydrate diet with lots of processed food contributes negatively to anxiety. Eating a whole-foods-based diet with sufficient protein and fat will help stabilize blood sugar, and therefore offer some physiological protection against anxiety. Examples of meals and snacks can be found in the Prenatal Spotlight 1 article, which outlines an excellent diet to follow which can prevent anxiety by grounding the pregnant mom in nutritious foods.
While pregnancy is an exciting time, it does not come without its challenges! Reach out to Nutrition Dispensary for some additional guidance.
Blog Written by: Jennifer Costello
January 2023 Nutrition Dispensary Inc.
Other Articles in the Prenatal Spotlight
Prenatal Spotlight 1: Fertility & Pregnancy Diet
Prenatal Spotlight 2: Prenatal Nutrients
Prenatal Spotlight 4: Postpartum Nutrition
Advice and/or information provided is not intended to diagnose, cure treat or prevent disease.
For more information or to order any of these products, click on the product links in this blog or contact us at [email protected]