Whilst pregnancy can be a wonderful journey, for many women it can also mean months of unpleasant pregnancy symptoms. Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms which are typical for IBS are also common during pregnancy. This includes nausea, wind/flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation. For some women, symptoms may be mild, for others they can be debilitating and significantly impact everyday activities.
What causes IBS symptoms during pregnancy?
The exact reason why IBS symptoms occur during pregnancy for some women isn’t well understood. We do know that IBS is twice as common in women as it is men, but again, the exact reason is yet to be determined. Hormonal changes during menstruation and pregnancy are believed to be a contributor to GI symptom flare-ups. The physical pressure of a growing baby on the bowel wall may also be a factor. Additionally, the iron and calcium content of pregnancy supplements may also worsen GI symptoms such as constipation. Psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and depression which may be increased during pregnancy for some women may also contribute to IBS symptoms.
Managing IBS symptoms during pregnancy
Effective management of IBS symptoms during pregnancy will vary between individuals, particularly depending on the type of GI symptoms experienced. Some tips which may be helpful to manage different GI symptoms during pregnancy are outlined below:
|Constipation||-Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine.
-Ensure you’re eating enough fibre-rich foods such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
-Sip on warm water or peppermint tea. Be mindful that peppermint tea and other herbals teas may aggravate reflux, which is also common during pregnancy.
-Go for a light walk.
-Check out our article on tips to get digestion moving for additional tips!
|Diarrhoea||-Limit caffeine or carbonated beverages and consume plenty of water.
-Choose more plain/bland foods rather than spicy/fatty foods until symptoms subside.
-If prolonged or very severe consider an electrolyte supplement, discuss with a pharmacist first.
|Nausea||-Limit spicy, fatty or very rich foods.
-Stick with plain foods such as toast, dry biscuits and rice.
-Aim for small, frequent meals/snacks rather than large meals.
-Eat most when feeling best.
-Sip on peppermint/ginger tea or water with lemon/lime. Be mindful that this can aggravate reflux, which is also common during pregnancy.
|Bloating/Wind/Flatulence||-Consume small, frequent meals/snacks rather than large meals.
-Limit intake of common gas-producing foods such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, legumes, onion and garlic.
-Avoid carbonated beverages.
|Stomach pain/cramps||-Opt for smaller more frequent meals/snacks over large meals.
-Try a hot water bottle to assist with pain.
-Limit carbonated beverages and caffeine
Remember to rest and relax
Stress is a common trigger of IBS symptoms and pregnancy can be a particularly stressful time for many women. We all unwind in different ways, so when GI symptoms worsen, try doing whatever it is that helps you unwind and relax. Prioritise sleep as well. Lack of sleep can worsen IBS symptoms, so try aim for 7-8 hours each night.