Gas is always an unpleasant subject. No one wants to admit that they belch or pass gas, but everyone does. According to the Mayo Clinic, people do it about 10-20 times per day, and for pregnant women this average is even higher. But the good news is that there are plenty of things that a pregnant woman can do to reduce bloating during pregnancy.
Why So Gassy?
Many women experience bloating when pregnant and they may wonder why. The reason is that the hormone progesterone, which is associated with pregnancy, causes the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus to relax, which will allow it to stretch to accommodate a growing baby. But the same hormone also relaxes all of the other smooth muscle tissues in the body, including the tissue of the digestive tract. The relaxation causes digestion to slow down.
As the pregnancy progresses, the growing baby can put pressure on the digestive tract causing digestion to slow even more. When digestion slows down, gas and bloating can result.
Where That Gas Comes From
The gas gets into the digestive tract in two ways. The first is by swallowing air when eating and the second is the digestion of food. The gas that causes belching is the result of air swallowed when eating and drinking.
Most of the gas that pregnant women experience is the result of the digestion of food. Bacteria in the large intestine (colon) break down the food that was left only partially digested by the enzymes present in the stomach and small intestines. This results in the gas that is released as flatulence. The bad news is that the fiber rich foods and dairy products that are the best for a pregnant woman to eat are also the ones that are most likely to cause flatulence.
Some women get a lot of gas from foods that don’t typically bother most people, such as dairy products or certain fruits and vegetables. For example, those who are lactose intolerant may experience gas and bloating if they eat dairy products like milk or ice cream because they don't produce enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. It can even be as specific as being bothered by milk, but not cheese since natural cheese is made with enzymes. There are products on the market such as supplements or lactose free dairy products that allow pregnant women to consume the beneficial dairy products that they and their baby needs.
Certain vegetables that contain a type of sugar called raffinose can make pregnant women gassy. The foods with the highest amounts of raffinose include beans, cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and whole grains.
Fructose is another sugar that can make people gassy, and unfortunately many of the products consumed in the US today have a type of fructose, high fructose corn syrup, added since it is less expensive than regular can sugar. Products without high fructose corn syrup are becoming more widely available, but if a pregnant woman is concerned about this, she needs to read the food label carefully. Fructose does occur naturally in many fruits, vegetables and grains such as leeks, scallions, onions, artichokes, apples, pears, honey and wheat. Dried fruit also has a higher concentration of fructose since drying removes the water, thus concentrating the other substances in the fruit.
Starchy foods can be another culprit. In fact the only starch not known to cause gas is rice. Many forms of starch are also high in fiber, which means they are not broken down in the small intestine so they pass into the large intestine largely unprocessed. Wheat bran passes through the digestive system almost completely unprocessed, even in the large intestine, which makes it a good choice for those who want to add fiber to their diet but also have problems with flatulence.
While high fat or fried foods don't typically cause gas, they can make the bloating and cramping associated with gas worse, and if someone has a problem with flatulence, it can lead to an oily discharge, so it's best to avoid these foods altogether.
Finding Some Relief
While it isn't a good idea to cut out all the foods that can cause gas, the worst offenders can be avoided to help reduce the amount of gas a pregnant woman experiences. Keeping a food diary can help a pregnant woman pinpoint the foods that give her trouble as well as help her make sure she is eating a balanced diet for her and her baby. Other ways of finding relief include:
- Eat several small meals per day instead of three large ones
- Chew food thoroughly and don't talk while eating
- Don't chew gum or suck on hard candy
- Avoid carbonated drinks
- Drink from a glass instead of a bottle and avoid using a straw
- Limit drinking during eating, but be sure to make up for it throughout the day
- Move after eating, such as taking a walk
- Take care of constipation as it can make bloating and gas worse
- Don't smoke
- Over-the-counter gas remedies are usually safe (Don't take charcoal tablets however as they are not safe)
There are some natural and homeopathic ways to help ease gas and bloating as well.
- Drink a cup of chamomile tea after meals. It helps soothe the digestive system.
- Magnesia Phosphorica at three tablets of 6X strength, three times per day.
A probiotic supplement is a good idea as well. It supplements the natural bacteria found in the digestive system, which takes some of the stress off the digestive system.
Cause For Concern
Typically gas and bloating during pregnancy is not a cause for concern. However if a pregnant women experiences any of these symptoms she should call her doctor immediately;
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Contractions before the 36th week of pregnancy
- Blood in the stool
- A new bout of vomiting or diarrhea
- Extreme constipation or diarrhea
Gas and bloating is just one of the many side effects of pregnancy. While it isn't pleasant, rest assured it won't last long and once the baby is born, the unpleasant thoughts of flatulence will be a thing of the past.