Bloating

Bloating is something many women experience, regardless of whether they’re pregnant. For pregnant women, however, the bloated feeling seems to worsen as the months pass. This bloated feeling is sometimes accompanied by nausea. You may feel like you’ve eaten too much or have excess gas.

Causes of Bloating During Pregnancy

During pregnancy your levels of progesterone increase. Progesterone is a hormone that relaxes smooth muscle tissue throughout your body, including your gastrointestinal tract. This relaxation slows down your digestive processes, which can lead to bloating and other gas-related issues that cause miserable sensations in your gut, especially after a big meal. As your pregnancy progresses, your growing uterus begins to compete for space with your intestines and stomach, which also makes you feel bloated. To make matters even worse, the muscle-relaxant effect of progesterone also makes it more difficult for you to control the release of gas—which can turn dinner-party attendance into a source of terrible social anxiety.

Remedies for Bloating During Pregnancy

Because your digestive system is especially fragile early in pregnancy, you will often have feel bloated. Luckily there are some things you can do to help prevent bloating:

  • Take Laxatives: It is unwise to resort to medication too often, and this is equally true of prescription and over-the-counter laxatives. There are times, however, when you may be able to obtain a little relief from anti-bloating medication, or even from certain home remedies. Stool softeners whose active ingredient is docusate sodium are generally considered safe, and mineral oil is also safe if you do not use it too often (regular use is believed to interfere with the body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins).
  • Eat foods high in fiber: Whole wheat toast, carrots, apples, oatmeal, whole-grain bagels, and pears are all good sources of fiber. The fiber absorbs the water in your digestive system and helps move the food through your intestines. Rice, leafy greens, and yams are also helpful foods.
  • Exercise daily: Taking walks or doing simple exercises like pelvic rocks can help you release the gas that is building up inside you. Walking stimulates your digestive system, especially after eating.
  • Drink more water: Believe it or not, water is actually good for you when you feel bloated; it helps flush out your system and prevents bloating and swelling.
  • Say NO to refined sugars: Many women develop a sweet tooth while pregnant, and for some reason refined sugars affect many pregnant women. Also avoid drinking artificially sweetened fruit juices. Soda is probably the worst thing to drink; it contains a lot of high fructose corn syrup that contributes to bloating, and the carbonation doesn’t help either. Fresh fruits such as bananas, peaches, and apricots are better ways to satisfy a craving than drinking soda or eating candy.
  • Eat smaller portions: Eating smaller portions can be difficult when you’re pregnant, but it helps to reduce bloated feelings throughout the day. The goal is to avoid overloading your digestive system, and you can do this by reducing portions while eating more frequently throughout the day.
  • Eat more slowly: Mom always said, “Chew your food before swallowing!” Well, she was right, and it’s especially important when you’re pregnant. You need to eat slowly in order to give each bite a chance to settle and make its way into the digestive tract. Again, you don’t want to overload your digestive system. Also, when you eat quickly you are more likely to swallow air.
  • Avoid gassy foods: Certain foods, such as onions, beans, and cabbage, are known to trigger gas, and even though we crave these foods, it’s best to stay away from them as much as possible in order to avoid becoming bloated. You probably have your own list of foods that give you gas, and you should avoid those, too.
  • Avoid stressful situations: Tension can cause us to swallow too much air. Try relaxing more, and avoid talking about subjects that upset you. Meditation can help you cope with stress.
  • Avoid fried foods: Fried and fatty foods don’t cause gas by themselves, but they are known to slow down your digestive process — which gives you gas and can increase your bloating.

When to See Your Doctor

While bloating during pregnancy is normal, severe abdominal pain is not. You should contact your doctor immediately if you are experiencing greater abdominal pain than seems normal for pregnancy, if you are having regular bouts of diarrhea, or if you see blood in your stool.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Bloating During Pregnancy

  • Are the symptoms I’ve been experiencing—bloating, constipation, and gas—normal, or has something gone wrong with my pregnancy?
  • I find I get some relief from my constipation by taking mineral oil; how often can I safely do this?
  • Are there any over-the-counter remedies you can recommend?
  • Is there anything you can prescribe for my bloating?
  • Are there any changes I can make to my diet that will help?

Medical References:

    Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-blog/gas-in-pregnancy/bgp-20055810 National Center for Biotechnology Information http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3418980/ http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003122.htm Syed Thiwan, MD, UNC School of Medicine, Abdominal Bloating: A Mysterious Symptom, http://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/files/educational-gi-handouts/Abdominal%20Bloating.pdf
[Page updated June 2014]