Pregnancy is such an exciting time especially as you are busy getting ready for the new arrival to your family. As well as preparing the nursery it is also a great time to prepare your digestive system. During pregnancy it is common to experience digestive issues such as constipation and reflux but the health of your gut also has an enormous influence on your baby’s health, both immediately after birth and throughout their life. Therefore, supporting your gut can alleviate discomfort during pregnancy, provide support for your baby’s immune system and reduce the risk of conditions such as asthma, eczema and allergies.
During natural birth and breastfeeding the baby picks up bacteria from the mother, these bacteria travel to the previously sterile gut of the baby and inoculate it. The importance of healthy bacteria within the gut is becoming more and more understood. Research has shown that an optimal balance of bacteria in the gut helps to:
- Stimulate the immune system of the baby, helping it to ward off infections
- Balance the immune system to reduce inflammation and risk of conditions such as allergies, asthma and eczema
- Support digestive function to improve nutrient absorption and prevent reflux and colic symptoms as well as food intolerances
- Reduce risk of obesity in later life
- Support cognitive development
Gut Supporting Foods
There are many ways in which you can support digestive function through diet, it is important to remember the need to avoid unpasteurised foods and therefore fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha should be avoided during pregnancy. However, including foods which contain prebiotics (carbohydrates which “feed” healthy bacteria), fibre and healthy fats as well as ensuring an adequate intake of water are all important for allowing healthy gut bacteria to flourish.
General dietary pointers are:
- Include 6-8 portions of vegetables and 1-2 portions of fruit per day, to provide fibre and many essential nutrients
- Include prebiotic containing foods such as apples, chicory, artichoke, pomegranate and olives
- Ensure you stay hydrated – drink 2-3 litres of water per days during pregnancy
- Consume healthy fats from olive oil, avocado, oily fish (avoid tuna and swordfish), nuts and seeds (pumpkin, chia, flax, almonds, walnuts). Oily fish should be limited to one portion per week during pregnancy due to the risk of heavy metal contamination. Choose small fish eg wild salmon or sardines (farmed salmon will have been fed on grain so is not a good source of omega-3)
- Include liver gut supporting foods such as garlic, onion, rocket, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and kale
READ MORE: What Causes Bloating During Pregnancy?
Supplements to consider
Live bacteria supplements – the use of live bacteria supplements (probiotics) has been shown in research to be very useful in supporting the balance of digestive microbes. They are considered safe to use in pregnancy and breastfeeding and are indicated to reduce the risk of conditions mentioned above. Choose a supplement that has a mix of different bacterial strains.
Vitamin D – important generally in pregnancy as it supports normal immune function and bone density, it also can support the health of the digestive lining, which can be affected by a poor balance of gut bacteria.
Pregnancy multi-vitamin and mineral – it is important to ensure that you are obtaining a full spectrum of required nutrients in order to allow the body to function optimally. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can contribute to undesired symptoms associated with pregnancy as well as postnatally and can affect the development of the baby. The government recommends a daily intake of 400 mcg of folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube defects; this nutrient is also available in some supplements in the active form methylfolate. Many nutrients in a multi formulation will also contribute to the health of the gut lining.
Magnesium – is involved in muscle relaxation and can help to stimulate bowel movements and therefore can help to alleviate constipation.
Omega 3 supplement – omega-3 fatty acids are important for cognitive development but also, again, support the repair and maintenance of the digestive lining.
Tips for alleviating constipation
- Try an Epsom salts bath, allows magnesium to be absorbed through the skin and aids muscle relaxation
- Rub tummy in clockwise motion with a castor oil pack
- Consider a magnesium supplement (200mg per day)
Tips for alleviating reflux
- Look at supporting the gut with above suggestions
- Eat small meals, little and often
- Try apple cider vinegar in water before a meal, to stimulate stomach acid
- Try lemon in hot water first thing in the morning
- Avoid food which aggravate reflux, this depends on person but commonly spicy foods, coffee, dairy and gluten can contribute
Adopt as many of these recommendations as possible to give your baby a great kickstart to the future.