Bloating and uncomfortable fullness are common during pregnancy. Unlike other pregnancy symptoms, this symptom may last through all three trimesters. Fullness and bloating may be accompanied with nausea and vomiting, often referred to as morning sickness, or may present on their own.
Fullness and bloating make it challenging to eat all the nutrients you and your growing baby need each day. You may not feel like eating or may struggle to consume a full meal in one sitting. Many women also report changes in hunger levels and appetite during pregnancy. Feeling hungrier during your pregnancy, but unable to eat without feeling bloated, poses a problem for many pregnant women.
Pregnancy Bloating Causes
Progesterone is largely to blame for uncomfortable fullness during pregnancy. Progesterone is a hormone secreted in the ovaries and released during pregnancy. This hormone relaxes your smooth muscles, which is critical while growing and carrying a baby. However, progesterone also relaxes the muscles in your stomach, small intestine, and large intestine, which slows your digestion significantly.
Progesterone also impacts your gall bladder, which further delays emptying in the gastrointestinal tract. Slower digestion should give the nutrients from your food more time to enter your bloodstream and reach your baby. However, slower digestion may also cause your bloating and “full feeling”.
As your pregnancy progresses and your uterus and baby grow, your growing baby begins to crowd your internal organs. Your gastrointestinal tract gets compressed, displaced, and even blocked at times. This may cause additional feelings of fullness and bloating later in your pregnancy.
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill to make these feelings go away. However, there are strategies to help you feel more comfortable while nourishing yourself and your baby.
Eat Small, Frequent Meals
Large meals contribute to the bloated feeling many pregnant women experience. Even meals that were appropriately sized before pregnancy may be too much for your digestive system to handle during pregnancy. The more food in your digestive system, the longer it takes to digest, and the more bloated you may feel.
Instead, try to eat multiple small meals throughout the day to spread out the food you eat and give your body more time to digest. This pattern will help your baby get the nutrients he or she needs without overloading your system.
Fiber is key to smooth digestion. Eating enough fiber throughout the day helps curb constipation associated with pregnancy, and also helps alleviate bloating. However, extreme amounts of fiber may produce excess gas and leave you feeling uncomfortable. If you are interested in increasing the fiber in your diet, do so slowly to help your digestive system adapt.
Water is the second key to smooth digestion. Without enough water, the fiber you eat will not be able to pass smoothly through (and out) your body. Drinking water throughout the day helps alleviate constipation, bloating, and the uncomfortably full feeling you may experience after eating.
Some women find that eating food and drinking liquid at the same time makes these symptoms worse. Drink water in between meals and snacks instead of with them. Ideally, wait 20-30 minutes between eating and drinking to avoid uncomfortable fullness.
Sip Something Warm
Warm (important!) beverages help stimulate your digestive system. Sipping on hot tea, warm water with lemon, or a warm ginger beverage may help alleviate the uncomfortable feelings you experience. Please note, caffeine should be limited during pregnancy so decaffeinated teas is best.
Rapid eating involves swallowing a lot of air. This air settles in your stomach, causes your stomach to fill with gas, and leaves you feeling full and bloated. Eat slowly to prevent swallowing air and to enjoy your food. Pay attention to the signals your body sends during meals.
Practice Mindful Eating
Eating slowly, paired with increased mindfulness, can truly transform your mealtime routine. Take a few slow, deep breaths before eating, release any stress you are carrying, remove distractions, and eat your meal mindfully to help promote relaxation and relieve painful gastrointestinal symptoms.
Take a Walk
Movement gets things moving! If you have the time to take a walk after a meal, do it! Movement helps food move through your system and prevents gas from settling in your stomach. Even if you only have ten minutes, try using it to move.
Probiotic foods help support a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, which may help prevent future gas and bloating. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi all contain probiotics and can be safely consumed while pregnant.
Foods to Avoid
High fat foods such as fried foods and foods with heavy sauces are often associated with an uncomfortably full feeling after eating because they are harder for your body to digest.
Gas producing foods, including beans and cruciferous vegetables, may cause gas, bloating, and bloating. Although these foods are healthy, if you experience these symptoms, it may be best to limit consumption during pregnancy.
Sugar alcohols, including sorbitol and mannitol, are generally considered safe in small quantities during pregnancy. However, these substances can cause upset stomach and gas in nonpregnant individuals, so it is likely best to steer clear during pregnancy.
Every pregnancy is different. You may experience different symptoms and different triggers than friends or family members. You may even experience different symptoms during different pregnancies of your own. One of the most beneficial things you can do is to learn your own triggers. Pay close attention to which foods make you feel good, and which foods make you feel uncomfortably full. It may also help to keep a journal of what foods you eat and what symptoms you experience.
If you are struggling to find an eating pattern that makes you feel good during your pregnancy, our team is here to help.
Liz has been reading nutrition labels since she learned how to read. Growing up with severe peanut and tree nut allergies she learned that it’s important to know what you are putting into your body. She made her first big lifestyle change as a freshman in high school, when she decided to become a vegetarian. However, it wasn’t until she took a food class in Italy as part of a study abroad program in college that it clicked in her mind that she wanted to make food and nutrition her career. Liz graduated from Penn State University in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in Nutrition, as well as a bachelor's degree in Marketing. She completed her dietetic internship with Aramark in Philadelphia, and her master's degree at Northeastern University shortly after.