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.
What to eat
- Constipation is one of pregnancy’s most common woes, and is brought on by rising levels of progesterone that relax the muscles of 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.
- 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 stool softer and subsequently easier to move through the colon and to ultimately pass.
- Dietitian Catherine Boome, suggests that pregnant women struggling with constipation ensure that their diet includes fresh fruit with their skins on, vegetables, salad, legumes, and whole grains like brown rice and brown bread.
- If constipation persists, eating a few prunes, drinking prune juice, or adding beetroot to your diet, should stimulate bowel motility.
- 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, explains Catherine.
Keep moving to get your bowel moving. Including a regular exercise regimen in your daily schedule will help.
What to eat
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
If your symptoms are severe and you’re struggling to stay hydrated or keep food down, consult a medical practitioner.
What to eat
- 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 the mother that require a great deal of energy,” explains Dr Manga.
- 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, explains Catherine.
- The key is to choose carbs that covert 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 the 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 consumed in excess. 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,” Catherine adds.
Anaemia can be another contributing factor to the experience of fatigue. If you’re battling, consult your healthcare practitioner, advises Dr Manga.
What to eat
- Painful leg cramps that often strike in your second semester, are most likely due to mineral deficiencies – particularly magnesium and calcium.
- 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 at 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. Avoid soft, mouldy cheese, though, as it poses a risk for foodborne illness.
Caffeine and the tannins in tea can inhibit mineral absorption.
Drink enough water, as leg cramps can be a sign that you’re dehydrated.
What to eat
- Heartburn is another common side-effect of the high progesterone levels in pregnancy that relax the sphincter between the stomach and oesophagus. 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, the growing uterus places upward pressure on the stomach, exacerbating the heartburn.
- To tackle this nutritionally, you have to eat to ‘soothe’ the digestive system. Avoid foods rich in fat that stay in the stomach for longer; rich and spicy foods that increase the production of gastric acids and irritate the stomach; large volumes of food that can increase the risk of reflux; and bread that swells in the stomach, risking a similar result.
- 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 e.g. coffee, tea, cola drinks, cocoa and chocolate
- Spicy food
- High-fat meat – polony, boerewors, chops, salami, bacon, etc.
- Large quantities of butter, cream, cheese and oil
- Deep-fried foods – vetkoek, samosas, fried fish
- Acidic food – citrus, tomato, chilli, vinegar, pickles, curry powder
- Gas-forming vegetables – cabbage, onion, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
- Carbonated drinks, including sparkling water
- Peppermint, spearmint and chewing gum
Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing, especially after a meal.
If changing your diet isn’t giving you the relief you need, you can also try the following supplements suggests Dr Manga :
For morning sickness
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