Message In A Pregnant Digestive System

Many of the digestive problems of modern humans, including in pregnancy, can be traced back to non-physiological birth practices, not breastfeeding, and over-filling the stomach from babyhood.

That’s why, in order to break this vicious cycle, an expectant mother should take the messages of her digestive health seriously, while also considering how birth impacts her baby’s future digestive health.

That gut feel is real

The digestive system affects not only physical health, but also reflects and affects emotional well-being. The connection between the gut and the brain has also been called the ‘enteric brain’. This is why if you are anxious, you may feel nauseous or have a runny stomach, and why sayings like ‘I feel it in the pit of my stomach’ and ‘a gut-wrenching experience’ evolved. These feelings occur because the gastrointestinal tract and the brain regularly communicate and influence each other. All strong emotions can trigger actual digestive symptoms or changes, which is why conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) could be the result or the cause of anxiety or stress. Research has also shown that increased levels of non-pathological bacteria in the gut could also reduce stress and anxiety levels.

At birth, a crucial event that cannot be seen by the human eye takes place, and could determine the lifelong digestive and general health of that baby. This is the seeding or establishment of the baby’s microbiome, which occurs exclusively during vaginal birth by exposure to the mother’s bacteria.

Quelling queasiness

As the blame for pregnancy nausea often falls on a woman’s changing hormones, it’s important to remember that some hormones are produced in the gut! This mostly forgotten fact may partly be why a woman’s digestive system seems to rebel in early pregnancy!

Midwives can help moms-to-be with these tips to help relieve nausea:

  • Sip ginger tea, chew a small piece of fresh gingerroot, or choose a pregnancy supplement that contains ginger
  • Take a Vitamin B supplement, especially B6
  • Eat smaller, frequent meals, and eat a little before rising in the morning
  • Chew on a mint leaf
  • If you think your pregnancy supplement is the cause, stop taking it for a few days to see if matters improve, then change brands if necessary

Helping heartburn and indigestion

Heartburn and indigestion in pregnancy are very common, especially in the third trimester. Increased relaxin and progesterone levels often contribute to the problem! These hormone relax the valve separating the gullet and the stomach, allowing gastric acid to pass back up into the gullet. Baby may also put pressure up against Mom’s stomach, pushing the acidic contents through to the gullet and burning the mucous lining. This burning is what is known as heartburn, while indigestion is the generalised discomfort in the upper digestive system.

Here are some tips to help pregnant women:

  • Eat smaller meals more regularly to help avoid indigestion
  • Avoid spicy, rich, and fatty foods if you are prone to heartburn
  • Don’t eat for at least three hours before bedtime to ensure fewer symptoms at night
  • Chew a piece of liquorice or a mint leaf, or sip a cup of hot water with a few drops of peppermint essence for quick relief
  • Raise the head of your bed a bit, or sleep on a continental pillow or two

Using many antacids for heartburn is not a good idea as your body already tends to greater alkalinity in pregnancy – choose one that has a proven track record or ask your pharmacist or doctor for a recommendation.


About the Author:

Lilian Paramor (known as Sister Lilian) holds a B.Nursing degree from the University of Stellenbosch (1978) and is a qualified and registered SANC nurse and midwife (1980). She is also a qualified reflexologist and natural health practitioner. Sister Lilian has close to 40 years of health professional experience, and is South Africa’s leading pregnancy and parenting advisor. She is well-known in both the maternity professional world as well as amongst the parenting community in South Africa and beyond. Her trademarks are her compassion, credibility and innovation ability, showcased by her longstanding approach of ‘first do no harm’ and her work slogans ‘with nature, knowledge and experience’ and ‘advice you can trust’. Sister Lilian has had six pregnancy and parenting books published in South Africa, edited and adapted a Canadian parenting book for the South African market and contributed to a renowned Juta handbook for midwives. She has also written and published numerous topic-specific booklets for midwives and parents, on subjects like breastfeeding, nutrition, birth, and sleep. Sister Lilian’s has also been a popular radio and TV presenter and often contributes to parenting magazines. She started in private practice in Pretoria in 1988; this morphed into the Sister Lilian Centre® in 1994, which also runs one of the most renowned midwifery conferences in the southern hemisphere, called Sensitive Midwifery Symposium, and publishes Sensitive Midwifery Magazine for professionals, as well as an online pregnancy, birth and parenting magazine called eBaby.

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