Are you 11 weeks pregnant with a belly that looks more like you’re 20 weeks? Don’t worry, the baby you’re growing really is the size of a fig, just like your pregnancy app said.
The problem instead is bloating, a common but unpleasant symptom in pregnancy. Unfortunately, bloating is something many women experience during pregnancy and it is possible it will last right up until you deliver (source).
The good news is that bloating, and the discomfort that comes with it, can be managed. In this article, we’ll discuss what causes bloating and what you can do to combat it during your pregnancy.
With these tips and tricks, you can help stop the bloat in its tracks and create for yourself a more comfortable pregnancy experience.
Progesterone: A Likely Culprit
Progesterone is a necessary hormone throughout all stages of your pregnancy. So much so that its levels will continue to rise through all 40 weeks.
In early pregnancy, progesterone helps increase blood flow to your uterus and stimulates the glands in your uterus to thicken and provide nutrients to the growing baby. It also helps your body develop the placenta, as well as the decidua. The decidua is an entirely new organ that will attach your placenta to your uterus and helps the embryo to attach as well.
Soon the placenta will start making progesterone on its own as well. This further helps the baby to grow, as well as helping your pelvic muscles to strengthen and prevents your uterus from contracting until it’s time to go into labor.
But while progesterone does a lot of good things for you and your baby, it does have a few side effects that are less than desirable. These include breast tenderness, fatigue, and you guessed it — bloating.
Don’t worry though; there are a few things that can be done to help decrease your bloating and increase your comfort over the coming months. We’ll cover those next.
It’s true. The same hormones your pregnancy needs can have the effect of slowing the gastrointestinal tract down, resulting in bloating and a buildup of gas and fecal material in the colon. This tends to become more prominent as the progesterone levels increase and these levels increase steadily until delivery.
Editor's Note:Christine Traxler, MD, BS
What Can You Do?
If your bloating is making your uncomfortable, whether physically or every time you walk by a mirror, you can help minimize it.
1. Change Your Diet
Often things in our diet can contribute to bloat and discomfort, even if they are otherwise healthy. Things like beans, whole grains, and vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and asparagus can increase your bloating. Apples, onions, and tomatoes are all high in fructose, which can cause discomfort and bloating.
Have you noticed diarrhea as an additional symptom of your bloating and discomfort?
If this is correlating with an increase in dairy products since you became pregnant, it might be you are lactose intolerant. Some people with mild intolerance do not notice symptoms unless they increase their consumption of dairy.
2. Small and Slow Is The Way To Go
The larger the meal, the harder it is to digest. Have you noticed you often feel tired after eating a big meal? That’s because of all the energy your body is having to use to digest all that food (source).
Smaller meals are easier to digest, lessening the tiredness and bloating you can feel after eating.
Many healthcare providers suggest pregnant women eat six small meals a day (source). Frequent meals? Sign us up!
Eating slower can help too because it takes 20 minutes on average for a person’s brain to realize they are full (source). By eating slowly, you allow your body to send your brain the signal that you are full before you’ve actually overeaten. By not overeating, bloating may be prevented.
3. Don’t Smoke
It’s common knowledge smoking causes a lot of issues. Doctors recommend women stop smoking before they even try to get pregnant.
It’s widely known smoking can cause a lot of damage to your unborn baby, including limiting their oxygen, low birth weights, an increased risk of respiratory issues, as well as SIDS. But many don’t know it also carries some side effects that can bring some discomfort to you during pregnancy as well.
Pregnant or not, smoking can lead to bloating because smokers inhale more than their non-smoking counterparts (source). And this air often gets trapped in your stomach or colon.
Get Some Help
4. Get Up And Go
We discussed above how slow digestion can cause bloating, but smaller meals are not the only thing that can help you digest your food faster. A study conducted in 2006 showed gas retention was greatly decreased in individuals who were exercising compared to those who were not (source).
Exercise, even a short walk, can help get your digestive track moving. You could also try using an elliptical machine or a stationary bike. Even water aerobics can get your digestion up and moving.
Are cardio exercises not your thing? Find another way to exercise to help aid in digestion, and combat your bloat.
Have you ever been in a situation that made you feel nauseous? That’s your gut-brain connection at work (source). It’s a relationship that can go both ways.
Intestinal issues can make you anxious or stressed. But stress and anxiety can also cause intestinal problems.
You see, your digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system (source). When your stress increases and your fight-or-flight response is triggered, your central nervous system can tell your digestion to shut down.
How It Works
While a certain amount of stress is unavoidable, you can help to reduce it through several easy methods. Deep stomach breathing can help calm you down in a tense moment, as can yoga.
At home, you can cut a few things off of your to-do list and give yourself time to rest and relax. If your stress and anxiety become unmanageable on your own, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or a therapist to help you through it.
Other Things That Can Help
Hopefully, the advice given above has helped you decrease the discomfort that bloating brings on.
But if you’re still finding yourself feeling puffy and tight, here are a few more things you can try:
- Treat constipation: Constipation is a normal symptom throughout pregnancy, with an estimated 24 percent of women dealing with it in the first trimester (source). Constipation can cause stool to build up in your large intestine, which can cause pain, bloating, and discomfort. If you are dealing with constipation, try increasing your water intake and talk to your healthcare provider about suggesting a stool softener.
- Drink from a glass: When you drink from a bottle or straw, it’s easier to swallow more air that can eventually get trapped in your stomach. Drinking from a cup helps you to ingest less air, meaning you do not get bloated as easily.
- Don’t chew gum: You take in air every time you open your mouth to chew the gum, and it’s easy for that air to make its way into your stomach. Try switching out your gum for a mint instead.
- Say no to artificial sweeteners: While fructose can be difficult for many people to digest, some artificial sweeteners like sorbitol cannot be digested at all (source). If you need to sweeten your food or beverage, try a natural option like maple syrup or honey instead.
- Don’t eat right before bed: Eating right before bed has the exact opposite effect of the getup and move tip we had earlier in this article. Instead of scarfing down your dinner right before your head hits your pillow, try giving yourself an hour or two between dinner and sleep. Give your body time to start digesting your food and possibly save yourself some discomfort in the morning.
- Stay away from carbonated beverages: Sodas and other carbonated beverages are made by forcing carbon dioxide and water into your drink at high pressure (source). When you drink a soda, all of those bubbles caused by the carbon dioxide go into your belly and can easily get trapped there. Instead of reaching for a soda, try reaching for a glass of water. If water is too bland for you, add fruits or herbs such as mint to liven it up.
The Bottom Line
You are not alone! Just as with morning sickness and sore boobs, many moms and moms-to-be have suffered through the same thing you are right now.
While pregnancy is a beautiful and magical event in life, some of its side effects are less than glamorous.
It might take one or more change for you to get relief. But by knowing what you are up against and what things can help, you can hopefully minimize the discomfort that comes with bloating during pregnancy.
Do you have any tips or tricks to help stop bloating and the discomfort it causes during pregnancy? Share your ideas in the comments below!