What to eat to treat your pregnancy niggles

From morning sickness and heartburn to constipation and cramps, we have a food that will make you feel better in no time at all… By Françoise Gallet


For almost every pregnancy niggle, nature’s medicine chest has a nutritious solution that can help ease the side-effects. From nausea and cramps to heartburn and constipation, read on for tips and advice from our experts.


Constipation is one of pregnancy’s most common woes, and is brought on by rising levels of progesterone that relax the muscles of your bowel, explains ‎integrated medical practitioner, Dr Ela Manga. The result is that the wave-like peristaltic movements of the bowel slow down and this can ‘clog’ your works.

What to eat:

  • Nature’s solution is water and foods that are high in fibre, especially soft insoluble fibre. The soft insoluble fibre creates a high-volume mass that draws in fluid throughout the digestive tract, making your poo softer and subsequently easier to move through the colon and to ultimately pass.
  • Dietician Catherine Boome says your should include fresh fruit with their skins on, vegetables, salad, legumes, and whole grains like brown rice and brown bread in your diet if you are constipated.
  • If constipation persists, eating a few prunes, drinking prune juice, or adding beetroot to your diet, should stimulate your bowel movements.
  • Oat bran can also be helpful, but add it gradually, advises Catherine. Start with one teaspoon per day and slowly increase it to five to six teaspoons.
  • Remember, though, that all that fibre needs to be well hydrated for it to work as the soft bulking agent that moves waste through the colon. So drinking about six to eight glasses of water per day is important.


“Processed and refined foods – these contribute significantly to incidence of constipation,” says Catherine.

Top tip: Keep moving to get your bowel moving. Including a regular exercise regimen in your daily schedule will help.

Morning sickness

Morning sickness can range in severity, and despite the time frame that the condition’s name alludes to, nausea can surface at any time in the day – or even persist all day.

What to eat:

  • Keeping a stash of crackers next to your bed (select some that have at least 6g of fibre per 100g, to avoid constipation) and nibbling on them as you wake up, can help settle your tummy before that woozy feeling sets in. “The crackers line your stomach and raise blood sugar levels,” explains dietician, Nathalie Mat.
  • Also useful for settling woozy tummies is ginger tea – just add a bit of root ginger to hot water. “Be wary of commercial ginger teas and fizzy ginger drinks that have added sugar, as these can increase weight gain,” cautions Nathalie.
  • Additionally, ensure that your diet includes foods rich in vitamin B6 – such as beef, turkey, chicken, potatoes with their skins on, spinach, avocados and bananas. “If you’re taking a pregnancy supplement, it will contain enough Vitamin B6,” reassures Nathalie.

ALSO SEE: 2 yummy popsicle recipes to treat morning sickness


  • Rich, spicy, and fried fatty foods.
  • Large, rich meals that are high in fat and protein, and sit in your tummy for a long time.

Top tip: If your symptoms are severe and you’re struggling to stay hydrated or keep food down, consult your doctor.


Growing a baby is demanding work for your body, and fatigue, especially in the first trimester, is often experienced. “As the placenta and baby develop, there are huge metabolic demands on your body that require a great deal of energy,” explains Dr Manga.

What to eat:

“Carbohydrate-rich foods that convert to glucose (the nutrient that supplies energy to many parts of the body) need to be an essential part of your diet,” says Catherine.

The key is to choose carbs that convert to glucose slowly, as these offer you a more sustainable supply of energy. Think:

  • Wholegrain cooked starches such as brown basmati rice, quinoa, whole-wheat couscous, spelt, millet and bulgur wheat.
  • High-fibre whole grain breads and crackers.
  • Oats, oat bran and high-fibre unsweetened muesli.
  • Vegetables and fruits.

“It’s also important to eat regularly, as it helps your metabolism burn at a good rate. So aim for three balanced meals a day, with light snacks,” recommends Catherine.


  • Sugary foods that release instant glucose into your bloodstream, because the surge of energy will be followed by a subsequent sharp and sudden drop in blood-glucose levels – also known as ‘rebound hypoglycaemia’ – that will leave you feeling tired.
  • “Caffeine, the stimulant we’re most tempted to reach for when our eyelids start to droop, is in fact an energy sapper,” explains Catherine. “Caffeine doesn’t provide the body with real energy, and also has a diuretic effect, leaving us dehydrated if we have too much of it. This can compound fatigue, because water is required for metabolic processes. “If we are dehydrated, we are more likely to feel lacklustre, so keep well hydrated,” says Catherine.

Top tip: Anaemia can be another contributing factor of fatigue. If you’re battling, consult your healthcare practitioner, advises Dr Manga.

ALSO SEE: How to get more sleep during pregnancy


Painful leg cramps that often strike in your second trimester, are most likely due to mineral deficiencies – particularly magnesium and calcium.

What to eat:

  • Increase your intake of foods that are high in magnesium, like green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, beans, lentils and avocados.
  • Whole grains are also a good source of magnesium. You can have oats for breakfast, a whole grain sandwich at lunch, and brown rice at dinner. Sardines or other fish with small bones are an excellent source of calcium, as is dairy.


  • Caffeine and the tannins in tea can inhibit mineral absorption.
  • Soft, mouldy cheese, though, as it poses a risk for foodborne illness.

Top tip: Drink enough water, as leg cramps can be a sign that you’re dehydrated.


“Heartburn is another common side-effect of the high progesterone levels in pregnancy that relax the sphincter between the stomach and oesophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). This allows acid from the stomach to reflux up into the oesophagus,” explains Dr Manga.

There’s also an increased production of gastric juices, due to hormonal changes, and later in pregnancy, your growing uterus places upward pressure on your stomach, worsening the heartburn.

What to eat:

  • Tone your diet down with lean meat, like fish and poultry; low-fat dairy products; grilled, steamed or dry roasted food; foods flavoured with fresh or dried herbs; high-fibre breads and cereals, and herbal teas.

Aim for three small meals daily, with snacks. Chew your food well and eat slowly. Drink water in between your meals and sit upright during and after eating. Eat your evening meal three to four hours before bed time.


  • Acidic and carbonated drinks
  • Caffeinated drinks and food like coffee, tea, cola drinks, cocoa and chocolate
  • Spicy food
  • High-fat meat like polony, boerewors, chops, salami, bacon, etc.
  • Large quantities of butter, cream, cheese and oil
  • Deep-fried foods like vetkoek, samosas, fried fish
  • Acidic food like citrus, tomato, chilli, vinegar, pickles, curry powder
  • Gas-forming vegetables like cabbage, onion, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks, including sparkling water
  • Peppermint, spearmint and chewing gum

Top tip: Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing, especially after a meal.

Pregnancy supplements

If changing your diet isn’t giving you the relief you need, you can also try the following supplements suggests Dr Manga :

For constipation:

Psyllium husks naturally bulk up the stool and are safe to use in pregnancy.

For fatigue:

Take a good prenatal supplement that covers the increased demands for vitamins, minerals and iron. Remember to consult your healthcare practitioner if you aren’t coping with fatigue, as extra iron supplementation may be necessary in the case of iron-deficiency anaemia.

For heartburn:

Slippery elm tea is effective in soothing the lining of the digestive tract.

For morning sickness:

Try vitamin B6 and magnesium.

For cramps:

An extra magnesium supplement, over and above your prenatal supplement, may be necessary.


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