Your Gastrointestinal System During Pregnancy
The joyous, biological event known as pregnancy brings about many changes. Your body must adjust and provide the life-sustaining needs of both you and your developing child.
Pregnancy often places significant strain on your body’s systems. One particularly influenced internal region is the gastrointestinal system, also known as the digestive tract or GI tract.
Brief Overview of the Gastrointestinal Tract
Your digestive system is a large and complex network comprised of many vital organs.
The system’s primary and most recognizable function is to digest the foods and drinks you consume. It also executes other important actions like synthesizing the minerals and nutrients you need to produce the body’s energy to operate, process, and expel waste materials.
The network is so expansive that it is divided into two sections categorized as the upper and lower gastrointestinal – the GI tracts.
The Upper GI tract is made up of the:
- Oral features like the tongue.
- The top part of the small intestine.
Your Lower GI tract contains:
- The bottom part of the small intestine.
- Large intestine.
Pregnancy’s Impact Upon the Gastrointestinal System
Pregnancy has a profound impact on the operation and well-being of your GI tract. It can often cause potentially problematic occurrences, including:
- HORMONAL IMBALANCES: Your body releases increased quantities of certain sexual and metabolic hormones during pregnancy. These chemical imbalances often have a significant impact on how digestive tract organs function. These substances tend to speed up or slow specific processes, which could influence digestion resulting in any number of unexpected symptoms.
- STRESS: Pregnancy-related anxiety is a concern. Of course, worrying about your baby’s health and apprehension over the process is normal. But the tension can impact your digestive system. Stress often strikes the gastrointestinal tract more than other bodily systems.
- INACTIVITY: As your pregnancy progresses and your fetus grows, your body will expand. This may cause you to set aside physical activity that could be either challenging and potentially dangerous due to your state. A lack of movement or exercise often proves detrimental to the gastrointestinal system. Physical activity plays a crucial role in stimulating the digestive process. If you do not exercise regularly, you stand at a greater risk of experiencing slowed digestion and its symptoms. When you do not exercise, you may also gain body fat. This can also lead to weight gain.
- DIETARY CHANGES: When you are required to eat for two, you consume more food. Expecting women often experience bizarre food cravings. When this happens, pressure is placed on the digestive tract. Increased food intake forces your digestive system to work harder. As a result, significant dietary changes can irritate the tract, leading to uncomfortable or even painful occurrences.
- PHYSICAL CHANGES: As your due date draws nearer, internal components like your uterus undergoes structural changes. This could lead to your digestive tract organs being pushed out of place and possibly resulting in gastrointestinal disturbances.
- MEDICATIONS: Naturally, pregnancy can cause you physical pain. Sometimes, you might choose to soothe the discomfort with over-the-counter pain medications. Unfortunately, some of these medications can cause digestive tract irritation and bring forth any number of bothersome symptoms.
Symptoms Of Pregnancy-Induced Digestive Concerns
In many instances, pregnancy-related digestive symptoms are considered normal and often include:
You might experience other more serious symptoms, including:
- ACID REFLUX DISEASE: Often shortened to the acronym GERD, this condition happens when the lower esophageal sphincter separates the stomach, and the esophagus fails to work correctly. This enables stomach acid to flow into and up the esophagus. Though relatively common during the first and second trimesters of the pregnancy cycle, GERD can precipitate annoying symptoms, such as:
- A dry cough.
- Burning in the throat or chest.
- Bitter taste in the mouth.
- Swallowing difficulties and the feeling of a lump in your throat.
- HYPEREMESIS GRAVIDARUM: This condition is characterized by repeated vomiting. If not adequately controlled, you could experience malnutrition, weakness, and dehydration. Such occurrences could ultimately threaten the well-being of you and your unborn child.
- GALLSTONES: These occurrences are most common during the second and third trimesters. The condition occurs because the digestive juice known as bile becomes excessively concentrated and formulates into stone-like objects. These can lead to severe pain and other complications.
Tips For Coping with Pregnancy-Related Gastrointestinal Issues
Luckily, the following specific suggestions can ease your discomfort and prevent any significant complications:
- AVOID GAS-PRODUCING FOODS: Certain foods increase gas buildups, such as onions, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower. Spiced or fried foods also increase acid accumulation. Therefore, you are strongly encouraged to avoid these foods.
- SNACKS: It is recommended that you snack and consume smaller but more frequent meals per day. Always keep light foods like crackers on hand throughout the day to help reduce nausea, vomiting, and GERD incidents.
- REMAIN PROPERLY HYDRATED: Few actions aid the digestive process more than drinking water. Water executes a critical role in promoting smooth and efficient digestion. Water keeps stools softer and can prevent incidents of constipation. Dietary specialists and medical professionals recommend that expecting mothers drink at least 10 cups of water per day.
- EXERCISE: Your ability to engage in significant movement might encounter greater restrictions as your pregnancy progresses. But it’s highly encouraged to take part in whatever physical activity you can. Exercise ignites the digestive process. Becoming physically active will increase your chances of experiencing regular bowel movements and avoiding adding extra body fat.
- REFRAIN FROM LYING DOWN IMMEDIATELY AFTER EATING: Few things induce relaxation more than a satisfying meal. Doctors and nutrition experts caution you not to lie down immediately after eating when pregnant. While pregnant, your stomach’s contents take longer to digest, so lying down right away could heighten your risk of GERD. It’s best to wait at least one hour following a meal before reclining or lying down.
- INCREASE QUANTITIES OF FIBER: Fiber is vital to proper digestive flow and regular bowel movements. You are urged to eat foods such as whole-grain, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
When To Consult with Your Doctor
It is important to reiterate that digestive problems are common when you are pregnant. You should consider speaking with your doctor if symptoms do not improve despite therapeutic measures or if new symptoms arise.
If you are expecting and have concerns about the associated digestive issues, please reach out to Gastroenterology of Greater Orlando. Our practice began more than 15 years ago and has emerged as one of the leading gastroenterology practices in central Florida. We perform a host of diagnostic procedures using state-of-the-art equipment in a friendly, comfortable, and inviting atmosphere where patient care is always a top priority. Contact us today!