Common GI Issues During Pregnancy
Plus, how to help get some relief.
While the thought of having a new baby may be exciting, and your pregnancy glow alluring, some side effects of being pregnant aren’t exactly enjoyable. You may not be able to indulge in some of your favorite foods and drinks, feel tired and achy, and have a harder time getting around as your baby bump grows. While those inconveniences can be unpleasant, it may be more difficult to shrug off other issues—especially gastrointestinal issues during pregnancy.
Although they’re a normal part of becoming a mommy, GI issues during pregnancy can really interfere with your daily life. We know, pregnancy constipation, diarrhea while pregnant, and stomach pain in pregnancy can be a total bummer. But there are reasons for gastrointestinal issues early in pregnancy, as well as digestive issues late in pregnancy. Read on to learn what they are, how long GI issues last during your pregnancy, and how to treat GI issues when you’re pregnant. And, most of all, try your best to remember that, in the end, they’re a small price to pay for the little bundle of joy awaiting you at the end of this tunnel.
Why Is My Stomach Upset All The Time While Pregnant?
If you’re experiencing an upset stomach while pregnant, and any other gastrointestinal issues during pregnancy, know that you’re far from alone. The vast majority of pregnant women deal with them too. They may have started with the inaptly named morning sickness (it can occur at any time day or night), which affects around 70% of pregnancies, and usually starts when you’re around six weeks pregnant—but can last for weeks, months, or, less commonly, throughout pregnancy.
As your pregnancy progresses, it’s also common to develop other GI issues too. This is because, as your baby bump grows, it puts pressure on your internal organs, like your esophagus, stomach, and intestines. On top of that, there’s also a surge of pregnancy hormones, which can affect a whole host of areas from your emotions and the foggy forgetfulness of pregnancy brain to multiple aspects of your digestion. Of course, those aren’t the only reasons for gastrointestinal issues during pregnancy. We’ll get more into other causes in a bit. But first, let’s discuss what the most common digestive issues during pregnancy are.
Common GI Issues During Pregnancy
Every pregnancy is different, even for the same woman. But there are some common themes that run through GI issues during pregnancy. They include nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (otherwise known as GERD), as well as diarrhea and constipation. Let’s dive a little deeper into them below.
Nausea & vomiting: If you’re one of the nearly 75% of pregnant women experiencing nausea and vomiting, try to take some solace in the fact that three-quarters of your fellow preggo ladies can wholeheartedly relate. Although it’s the most common digestive issue in early pregnancy, it’s not uncommon for it to continue into your second trimester or, more rarely, throughout your third. That said, if you’re nauseous and/or vomiting past your 16th week of pregnancy, be sure to let your doctor know, just in case there’s another underlying condition at play.
Heartburn & GERD: Over 50% of women get heartburn while pregnant, and up to 85% develop GERD. Heartburn, or acid reflux, can occur at any time, but tends to be more frequent in your second and third trimesters. It occurs when stomach acid gets pushed upward into your esophagus, causing a literal burning sensation, which can be accompanied by a sour taste in your mouth or a small amount of vomit in your throat. GERD is a more severe form of acid reflux that, left untreated, can significantly impact your quality of life. Treating these symptoms are extremely important while pregnant, because they can interfere with eating, which affects both you and your baby’s nutrition. Indigestion is also common, feeling bloated, gassy, or full.
Constipation: Super common in pregnancy, more than 70% of women experience pregnancy constipation at some point. One reason is that the surge hormones during pregnancy helps relax or slow down your digestive system in order to help you absorb more nutrients. But, by pumping the breaks on your digestion, this also means that more water is absorbed—leaving you more dehydrated and your poop harder to pass (which, in turn, can make you more susceptible to hemorrhoids). Your growing baby’s weight on your intestines can also slow things down. And increased iron consumption by way of your prenatal vitamin could block things up as well. As with any of the other common GI issues during pregnancy, let your doctor know and see if they have any recommendations on how to get some relief.
Diarrhea: Though diarrhea while pregnant is undoubtedly uncomfortable and unpleasant overall, it’s not uncommon, especially in your third trimester and as you approach your due date. There’s usually no cause for concern if you experience it as a pre-labor symptom or even a few weeks before. In many cases, it’s part of the process your body goes through when preparing for labor. Of course, let your doctor know if you experience it, particularly if it’s of concern to you or is accompanied by other symptoms such as lower back pain or increased vaginal discharge.
What Causes GI Issues When You Are Pregnant?
So, your GI system is dealing with reduced real estate while you're pregnant, it's slowing down to maximize nutrient absorption, and your hormones are surging, leading to an upset stomach while pregnant. But there are other reasons you may have digestive issues during pregnancy.
First off, from the moment you found out you had a baby on the way, you likely changed your lifestyle, including your diet. This sudden change alone can cause an upset stomach or diarrhea. You may also become more sensitive to certain foods, even if you had no such issue prior to becoming pregnant. Other things can make you more susceptible to tummy trouble such as carrying a few too many pounds, lack of exercise, and stress. You’re also at higher risk for an upset stomach if you take certain medications, antacids containing aluminum or calcium, or have a history of overusing laxatives. A thyroid disorder can make you more prone to GI issues while pregnant too. And, since there are so many potential causes, you’ll want to check with your doctor to see if you can narrow down and address the culprit(s).
How Long Can GI Issues Last During Your Pregnancy?
The good news is that, while nobody enjoys dealing with an upset stomach, most GI symptoms don’t stick around for too long during pregnancy and can be treated with over-the-counter remedies. Just be sure to discuss them with your doctor before starting anything while pregnant, as well as any persistent issues, as these could be signs of an infection or something more serious.
When Should I See My Doctor For Gastrointestinal Issues During Pregnancy?
Whether or not your digestive issues during pregnancy are mild or severe, you should let your doctor know about them either way so they can monitor them. (When it comes to your and your baby’s health, TMI is always a good thing.) However, if you experience some more concerning signs such as extreme fatigue, pain or difficulty swallowing, or choking, let them know immediately. Same goes for a dramatic weight loss, severe discomfort that impacts your quality of life, black or bloody poop, or if you at any time vomit blood.
How To Treat GI Issues While You Are Pregnant
Treatment for digestive issues during pregnancy is typically straightforward. And, before you reach for any medication, try a few fairly mild interventions at home first.
Increase fluid intake: Above all, start by drinking lots of fluids to try and get things moving a little more regularly—water primarily, but clear soups and fruit juice can help too (though avoid anything acidic, like orange juice, especially if you’re experiencing heartburn or acid reflux). Stomach issues like vomiting and diarrhea can be dehydrating, which can cause nausea and constipation, so try to stay well-hydrated as best you can.
Eat healthy: Switching up what, how much, and how often you eat can help relieve—or at least manage—digestive issues during pregnancy. Eating six small meals a day, instead of three regular meals, for instance, no less than two to three hours before bed, may help keep symptoms at bay. You can try to get ahead of any discomfort by increasing your fiber intake to help move your GI system along. (Though, keep in mind, that a sudden increase can be a double-edged sword, temporarily making you feel gassy or bloated. So try not to go from zero to 60 with it.) Depending on what your issue or issues are, you may also want to avoid spicy, processed, fried, or surgery foods, as well as limit your caffeine and dairy consumption. If you’re uncertain where to start, ask your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Exercise: Since exercising increases your circulation, more oxygen gets to your organs, including the ones in your GI tract—which helps them get a movin’ too. Talk to your doctor to see what they recommend—and what activities to avoid. But, generally, as long as you’re healthy enough and feeling well, try to get at least a half hour of exercise a day for five out of seven days of the week.
Use gravity as your friend: Keeping your head above your stomach while on the couch or sleeping can help limit heartburn and acid reflux. You can even buy a foam wedge to help keep you propped up.
Last, but not least, if your GI issues are really bothering you or interfering with your day to day, ask your doctor what you can take. They may recommend pregnancy-safe over-the-counter antacids, vitamins, or probiotics, or prescription antiemetics (for nausea or vomiting), GI stimulants (for constipation), or anti-diarrheals (for, well, you know).
Next: Prepare yourself for whenever your baby has tummy troubles. Read our article on what causes infant gas, as well as helpful tips on how you can help prevent it.