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 How Fiber Helps Digestion During Pregnancy

Isabel Martinez-Martinez

Even with that beautiful “pregnant glow,” no one ever said the whole pregnancy process is always pretty. When a mother’s body is trying to adjust to caring for the baby in her belly, body changes are bound to occur naturally.

One of the most normal ones is constipation. During pregnancy, bowel movements naturally decrease. “A mother’s body adapts to the needs of her baby,” nutritionist and chef Casey Nicole Evans calmly explains. “The mother’s digestion is slowed so the nutrients stay longer in the gut, since that is where it is most absorbent (and) are given to the baby.”

Constipation reduces the number of bowel movements, which are usually hard and difficult to pass. Symptoms such as headaches, swelling, bloating, and flatulence are normal at this time, as are hemorrhoids. Less than three bowel movements a week are telltale signs of constipation.

Other thoughts on constipation:

  • As the unborn baby grows inside the mother’s belly, it can cause the uterus to press on the intestines.
  • Changes in hormones may occur.
  • Watch for an insufficient intake ofwater and fluids (such as tea and fruit juices).

One magic word: Fiber

Constipation may be normal, but it and digestion can be managed by consuming food containing two types of fiber:

  • Soluble --- softens the stool by acting as a gel in the intestine, helping to increase water content and flow. This can be found in beans (especially lentils), nuts, oats, barley, fruits (citrus fruits, apples, figs, plums, all berries, prunes) and many vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and okra.
  • Insoluble --- accelerates the passage of food through the stomach and intestines because it adds bulk and mass to the stool. This type of fiber can be found in whole grains (wheat, oats, barley), many vegetables (peas, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cabbage), fruits (pineapple, apple skins, dates, grapes, melons), and peanuts.

Daily recommendations

It’s important to gradually incorporate 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber daily, so your digestive system gets acclimated and flatulence and swelling are minimized. “Drinking water before, during and after meals can smooth the whole digestive process,” Evans recommends.

Also consider eating or drinking:

  • Whole grain bread, rice, and pasta.
  • Fruits and raw vegetables with thenatural skin/shell
  • Plenty of fluids (eight 8-ounce glasses per day, plus another 8-ounce glass perhour of activity).
  • Olive oil instead of butter while cooking (it helps with nutrient absorptionand is a primary ingredient to aid healthy digestion).

In addition to fibers:

  • Include Iron-rich foods in your diet: Spinach, almonds, egg yolks, turkey, artichokes, beans, broccoli and milk (plus other calcium rich foods) are foods high in iron.
  • Consumeyogurt and other fermented milk products: They are important because they contain healthy bacteria that help improve intestinal flow. Add wheat bran, oats and fruit (fresh or frozen) to yogurt for extra taste and health benefits.
  • Eatthe peel:  Col.  Esther Martinez-Peralta, chief RN for the Mexican Military Hospital in Cuernavaca, points out consuming many unpeeled raw vegetables and fruits provides  benefits because of the fiber in the peel.
  • Steamingis:  the best way to cook fruits/vegetables, as it diminishes nutritional content the least.
  • Avoidfoods that can be irritants: Coffee and any other caffeine products that greatly irritate the stomach should be avoided during pregnancy. “Not only can caffeine irritate the mother’s stomach during pregnancy, but it can also cause serious health issues such as spontaneous abortion and low birth weight,” Evans says.

Other stomach irritants include excess sugar, raw meats and high-fat foods such as bacon and sausages. The digestion of fat is slower in the stomach and intestine, which can cause feelings of heaviness and hinders healthy bowel transit.


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