Nutrition

Pregnant? 7 Tips to Support Smooth Digestion

7 min read
Tips for better digestion.
Tips for better digestion.

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Growing a human is no small task—and when eating for two, many pregnant people find their digestive system starts to cramp their style: Studies show that up to 38% of pregnant women experience occasional constipation, aka occasional infrequent bowel movements. (1)

Occasional constipation during pregnancy isn’t the only change that can occur during this time. Many people experience shifts in appetite, too—think increased (or decreased) hunger, cravings, food aversions, and nausea, which are all par for the course.

The good news is there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can introduce to help support your quality of life throughout this period. From making simple dietary adjustments to embracing physical activity, these seven tips may help ease occasional digestive discomfort and may help keep things running smoothly.

7 Pregnancy Digestion Tips

Tip #1: Drink plenty of fluids.

First things first: Stay hydrated. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends pregnant women drink eight to twelve cups of water a day to help soften hard stools and move waste through the digestive tract. If you’re not a fan of plain H2O, no worries! Try jazzing it up with fun infusions—cucumber, mint, lemon, and ginger are all great options. Broth, tea, vegetable juice, and fruit juice can also help you reach your fluid intake goals; just be mindful of added sugar and artificial preservatives. (FWIW, some people have found sipping prune juice to be helpful for encouraging elimination.) (2)

Tip #2: Load up on dietary fiber.

Why? For starters, you’re probably not eating enough. According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), the adequate intake (AI) for fiber for pregnant women is between 25-36 grams per day, depending on age and trimester—and in the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), data showed more than 90% of pregnant people in the United States are not getting enough fiber from their diets. (The same holds true for breastfeeding people, who need 31-34 grams per day, depending on age—90% of lactating women come up short there, too.)* (3, 4)

Fiber has many benefits, including support for digestive health and regularity. There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. “Both types are beneficial in their own ways,” notes Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, Ritual’s VP of Scientific Affairs and a registered dietitian. “Instead of focusing on specific types, we should be aiming to get enough overall.”*

“Instead of focusing on specific types of fiber, we should be aiming to get enough overall.” -Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, Ritual’s VP of Scientific Affairs

Make a habit of consuming high-fiber foods—think fresh fruits, vegetables, breakfast cereals, whole grains, and prunes (including prune juice!).

Tip #3: Be mindful of refined carbs (we’re looking at you, processed foods).

When possible, try to limit refined carbohydrates like white rice, white bread, and pasta, which have less fiber than their whole grain counterparts and may back things up. Even better: You don’t have to sacrifice taste. By getting creative, you can transform simple foods into flavorful, nourishing snacks and meals. (5)

Got oats? This maple overnight oats recipe is packed with protein and fiber—and these savory avocado oats pack the perfect umami punch. If you have a can of chickpeas on hand, try roasting them for a crispy, fiber-filled snack. For heartier options, this vegan lentil meatballs recipe (featuring a base of spaghetti squash noodles) is full of fiber, not to mention other nutrients like magnesium, iron, and zinc.

Tip #4: Experiment with eating frequency.

To clarify, this doesn’t mean eating less—it means sizing down large meals and spacing them out into five or six smaller meals throughout the day. Big portions can be taxing on the body, so experimenting with this approach may help ease occasional discomfort (and may even help with reducing occasional gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort, too). In fact, a survey of clinicians who care for pregnant people found that eating small frequent meals was one of the most common recommendations to help with occasional nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. (6)

That said, what works for one person doesn’t always work for others. Some people do well with more frequent meals, while others may feel better eating three square meals a day. We recommend listening to your body and working with a trusted OB-GYN or health care provider to determine the best meal plan for you.

Tip #5: Wait to lie down after eating.

Let’s be real: No one likes heartburn—and having it during pregnancy can feel that much more frustrating. Beyond staying away from excessively fatty, spicy, or greasy foods, one simple way you can help mitigate the effect is to stay upright for at least an hour after eating (yes, even if that post food-coma nap is calling!). Similar to the previous tip, this small action can go a long way toward helping food move through the digestive tract.

Tip #6: Keep moving.

Your body, that is! The science is clear: Movement is an important factor in maintaining (and improving!) physical and emotional health (and that’s true regardless of pregnancy status). Plus, getting regular exercise can help stimulate the bowels, not to mention help with stress—always a good thing for digestion. Not sure where to begin? Check out our guide to starting a workout routine. (1, 7)

Tip #7: When nature calls—respond.

When you gotta go, you gotta go. Regularly holding back can have not-so-ideal side effects (and can exacerbate constipation), so listen to your body. It knows best.

The essential takeaway?

Pregnancy is a time filled with changes, and digestion is no exception. In the end, we suggest keeping things simple: Embrace healthy eating habits (including lots of high-fiber foods), make movement a priority, and stay hydrated. If you have any questions about treating constipation in pregnancy (or about women’s health or pregnancy symptoms in general), we recommend reaching out to a trusted OB-GYN or health care provider.†

References:

  1. Trottier, M., Erebara, A., & Bozzo, P. (2012). ... during pregnancy. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 58(8), 836–838.
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2020, October). How much water should I drink during pregnancy? ACOG.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020.
  4. USDA, Agricultural Research Service, 2021. Usual Nutrient Intake from Food and Beverages, by Pregnancy/Lactation Status, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2015-2018. 2021.
  5. Jung S, Oh M, Park S, Chae S. (2020). Effects of rice-based and wheat-based diets on bowel movements in young Korean women .... European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 74, 1565-1575.
  6. DiIorio, C.; Van Lier, D.; Manteuffel, B. (1994). Recommendations by Clinicians for Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy. Clinical Nursing Research. 3(3), 209–227.
  7. Ross, A., & Thomas, S. (2010). The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 16(1), 3–12.

†This content was created for informational use only, to share stories and provide education around this life stage. This information should not be read to recommend, endorse, or associate any specific products. Dietary supplements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.

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Meet Our Experts

This article features advice and has been reviewed by members of our Science Team.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

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