Treating your pregnancy symptoms in a natural way
One of the most challenging things about being pregnant is trying to deal with morning sickness and other symptoms that appear throughout the 9 months. During the first few weeks of pregnancy for example, women can experience nausea and vomiting, and later, they can suffer from heartburn, constipation and swollen feet.
Some good news is that most of the time these conditions can be solved with easy lifestyle changes and some dietary adjustments. Nevertheless, some mothers can experience severe symptoms and they don’t get better despite the dietetic measures. In these cases, it is very important to seek the advice of a specialist, because if they remain untreated, they can affect the quality of life, well-being, or nutritional status of the mother and unborn child.
So, today I’m going to give some tips that can help mums to ease these unpleasant symptoms in a natural way.
Nausea and vomiting affects almost all pregnant women, although, the term “morning sickness” can be a little misleading as mothers can feel them all day long. Their causes are not well understood, but it may be due to the rise of some pregnancy hormones.
One of the most used and popular treatments for sickness is the consumption of ginger. Yes! The same spice you use when you get the flu or need to travel on a boat to prevent motion sickness. This root has proven to be effective to deal with nausea and vomiting, and best of all, it is considered a safe non-pharmacological choice.
During gestation, experts recommend consuming 1,000 mgs of ginger per day (try not to ingest more than the recommended dose), which will be equivalent to:
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) of freshly grated ginger rhizome
- 2 ml of ginger liquid extract
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of ginger syrup
- 4 cups (237 ml each) of prepackaged ginger tea
- 4 cups (237 ml each) of fresh ginger tea (prepared by infusing ½ teaspoon of freshly grated ginger in hot water for 5–10 min)
- 1 cup (237ml) of ginger ale (made with real ginger).
- 2 pieces of crystallized ginger, each 1-inch square, ¼ inch thick
You can also improve symptoms by making these easy dietary changes:
- Avoid large meals - it’s so much better to have frequent, small meals every 1–2 hours to prevent a full stomach and trigger vomiting.
- Try to keep away from foods with strong smells, as well as spicy foods.
- Include meals that are low-fat. Fatty meals can be disturbing for your stomach. Your tummy is more likely to tolerate meals with a good protein content.
- Eat bland or dry foods, such as: breads, crackers, cereals, eggs, lean meat, fruits and vegetables.
- In the morning, as soon as you’re awake, try a couple of soda crackers, just before getting up to help prevent the symptoms.
- Make sure you drink enough liquids to prevent dehydration, but, avoid drinking just before, during or immediately after the meals.
- Pay attention and stay away from other things that may provoke nausea; such as odors, heat, noise, and flickering lights.
- And finally, always make sure you’re having a proper rest and don’t forget to take your prenatal vitamins. (In last week’s blog we spoke a little about some key nutrients).
There are other vitamins and minerals that may be effective in relieving sickness. Pyridoxal-5’-phosphate or the active form of Vitamin B6 is one of them; besides having key roles in the development of the baby, this vitamin can also help to alleviate mild cases of nausea and vomiting. So, be sure to include more food sources of B6, such as whole grains, legumes, cereals, bananas, avocado’s, papaya and nuts/seeds. Women who are experiencing intense nausea, can ask their specialist about taking a vitamin B6 supplement (typically 10-25mg every 8 hours).
In the same way, we have magnesium, a mineral that may help women with these symptoms. When women lack magnesium in their body, some of the side effects can be nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, leg cramps and weakness; magnesium depletion can also predispose women to vascular complications, such as preeclampsia. Nuts and seeds (brazil, sunflower, sesame, almonds, cashews, chia, pumpkin), green leafy vegetables, bone broth, herbs and avocados are some of the better food sources of magnesium, particularly organically grown, as often magnesium has been depleted from the soil due to aggressive farming practices.
Food cravings and aversions
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself at 3 in the morning craving for that piece of chocolate cake that is there in your fridge! Appetite changes like this one are very normal during pregnancy, especially after nausea has disappeared.
Cravings and aversions can indeed alter the regular food intake and can also cause a small and undesirable increase in your weight gain, but according to studies on pregnant women, this excess is not significant in most of the cases.
The foods that expectant mothers desire or seek to avoid varies greatly, depending on their culture and region, but most women have cravings for high-calorie foods, like sweets and high-fat meals, although fruits and dairies can be listed too. On the contrary, meat is one of the foods mothers tend to reject the most.
As mentioned, this is just one stage of pregnancy, and as long as you try to keep a balance in the consumption of all food groups and look for replacements for those you’re having an aversion to, it will be all right to allow yourself those cravings and avoid the things you don’t want.
Nevertheless, if your cravings are for non-nutritive substances, such as chalk or dirt, you may be experiencing pica, which is even far less common. The reason that some women develop pica during gestation is not completely understood, but it may be due to an iron deficiency; in this case, it’s important for you to talk to your doctor and have a blood test to check your iron levels.
Although heartburn is not associated with major negative effects and can’t harm the baby, that burning sensation in the center of the chest can place a great discomfort on the mother.
Contrary to nausea and vomiting, indigestion is more usual during the last trimester, because the growing uterus puts pressure on the intestines and the stomach, pushing its contents back up into the esophagus.
Here are some things that mothers can do to help relieve acid reflux:
- Keep an upright position, especially after meals for approximately 30-60mins.
- Make small frequent meals, just like you did if you experienced nausea at the beginning.
- Avoid high-fat foods and gastric irritants like caffeine.
- Drinking a glass of milk or yogurt may give some relief.
- If you don’t see any relief, you can also ask your doctor about the use of antacids.
Constipation during pregnancy can be linked to poor dietary fibre intake and liquids, but it also happens because of the rising levels of progesterone causing a reduction in time of how quickly your food is digested and passed along the intestinal tract. Iron supplements and a more sedentary lifestyle in the last weeks of pregnancy are also some of the other causes.
The best advice you can follow to prevent or treat constipation is to eat a diet high in fibre and drink lots of liquids, preferably water. Ideally, you should consume at least two portions of fruits and 5 portions of vegetables per day, as well as whole grains and cereals. Drinking prune juice and stewed pears are also very effective ways to help you go to the bathroom.
If you’re inactive, you can start by doing some gentle antenatal exercises! Just keep in mind: don’t wait until being constipated to improve the quality of fibre in your diet, if you avoid getting constipated you’ll also prevent hemorrhoids.
Oedema or swelling, is a normal part of pregnancy, caused mostly by the additional blood and fluid needed for your baby. It can affect not only your feet, but also ankles, hands and face. Swelling is more common when mothers are in their third trimester.
If you are already experiencing it, it might help to:
- Eat foods that are high in potassium
- Avoiding caffeine
- Drink water
- Minimize salt intake
- Avoid adding additional salt to meals or to eat less processed foods.
Remember that edema can be an early sign of pre-eclampsia, so if you are concerned about it, contact your doctor.
1. Ding, M., Leach, M. and Bradley, H. (2013). The effectiveness and safety of ginger for pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting: A systematic review. Women and Birth, 26(1), pp.e26-e30
2. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 189. (2018). Obstetrics & Gynecology, 131(1), pp.e15-e30.
3. National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health (UK). Antenatal Care: Routine Care for the Healthy Pregnant Woman. London: RCOG Press; 2008 Mar. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 62.) 6, Management of common symptoms of pregnancy. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK51880/
4. Borgna-Pignatti, C., & Zanella, S. (2018). Pica as a manifestation of iron deficiency.
5. Nichols, Lily. Real Food for Pregnancy: The Science and Wisdom of Optimal Prenatal Nutrition (Kindle Locations 3129-3130). Kindle Edition. 2018
6. Hill, A., Cairnduff, V., & McCance, D. (2015). Nutritional and clinical associations of food cravings in pregnancy. Journal Of Human Nutrition And Dietetics, 29(3), 281-289. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12333