Glowing skin, doubled cup size and shiny hair are all often touted as side effects of pregnancy. But there are other symptoms usually kept quiet (you know, the things that are a little less fun to include in conversation), such as heartburn, nausea and constipation. The good news is that there are simple, natural remedies for these typical pregnancy problems—and you can find them all in the aisles of your local grocery store.
Your gestating body experiences an increase in progesterone, which causes digestion to slow down and intestinal muscles to relax. In addition, your growing baby applies pressure to your lower abdomen and intestines, which can result in a fecal blockage. Vitamin supplements are also known to cause constipation, especially if your doctor prescribes a concoction of several taken simultaneously.
The best solution for constipation is to avoid it in the first place. To do this, stay hydrated (drink at least eight cups of water daily), eat a well-balanced diet (full of fruits, veggies and whole grains), and get plenty of exercise. If you’re already backed up, try drinking a glass of prune juice, increasing your fiber and fluid intake, or taking a warm bath to get things moving.
Hormonal variations, such as the aforementioned increase in progesterone, are to blame for that horrible burning sensation in your throat and chest. They cause the valve that normally prevents stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus to relax. And as your baby grows, an increasing amount of pressure is placed on your stomach and intestines, thereby passing stomach acids into your esophagus and causing heartburn.
Ginger, ginger and ginger. Drink a cold glass of ginger ale or snack on ginger candy or gingersnaps. (See sidebar for more ways to incorporate ginger into your diet.) Not a fan of ginger? Consider taking a papaya supplement with meals instead.
While no one really knows what causes morning sickness, it is likely a result of rapidly increasing hormones. An enhanced sense of smell and a sensitive stomach also contribute to the problem. Some women experience nausea as a direct result of taking prenatal vitamins as well.
A simple switch from taking your vitamin supplements in the morning to taking them at night can sometimes solve the problem—by the time the queasiness kicks in, you will already be snoozing. The remedies for curing heartburn—ginger and papaya—also work wonders for curing morning sickness. Emily Streich, LM, CPM, an instructor at Bastyr University’s Seattle Midwifery Program, points out that fluid and electrolyte replacement is essential if you’re vomiting. As an alternative to sports drinks, try coconut water, which can be found in many natural food and grocery stores. Sucking on ice cubes made of coconut water or weak red raspberry leaf tea can also ease the quease and replace lost electrolytes.
While some women struggle with constipation throughout their entire pregnancies, others might experience the opposite extreme. This could be caused by diet changes, or as a result of those pesky (but necessary!) prenatal vitamins.
These suggestions won’t make diarrhea go away, but they will help you through the unpleasant experience. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, and consider trading in your pickles and ice cream for pumpkin, which Streich says is full of fiber and helps keep stools firm. In addition to adopting the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast), she also advocates yogurt, since its probiotic bacterias can aid digestion.
Hemorrhoids—which are blood vessels in the anus that become swollen—most often appear as a result of straining due to constipation.
“Trying to keep stools soft is key, so make sure there is adequate fiber and water in your diet, and stop [consuming] processed foods,” says Streich. Apply chilled witch hazel packs or soak in a warm sitz bath to alleviate the pain. Streich suggests holding a (cool) black tea bag on the area, which soothes and shrinks hemorrhoids. You can also cut a potato in half and hold it on the area for the same effect.
Symptom: Yeast infection
Due to higher estrogen levels during pregnancy, your vagina produces more glycogen, which creates a breeding ground for yeast.
Increase your dietary intake of foods containing live-active cultures, such as cottage cheese, yogurt and kefir milk. Streich says that miso, kimchi and sauerkraut contain beneficial bacteria as well. Yeast feeds on sugar, so reduce your sugar intake while battling an infection.
Symptom: Itchy skin
Higher estrogen levels and stretched skin are at the root of your constant itch.
The best way to turn off the itch is to add more EFAs (essential fatty acids) to your diet. Streich advises, “[EFAs] can be in the form of fish oils from fatty fish that are low in heavy metals and toxins—including sardines, wild salmon and anchovies—or a plant-based source such as flaxseed or flax oil.”
Eating the right foods can prevent most of these ailments from occurring in the first place. Streich notes the importance of maintaining a varied diet to provide “the building blocks used to grow a baby and keep the mother strong and healthy through pregnancy, birth and beyond.”