A lot of us go into our pregnancies expecting to be radiant and joyous with maybe just a touch of morning sickness that passes after a short time. Maybe we know that labor and delivery is going to be no picnic but we think the rest is going to be all hearts and flowers. That's how some of us end up getting a rude shock when all kinds of weird symptoms begin to rear their ugly heads.
Take gas, for instance. The expulsion of intestinal gas and pregnancy go together like bees and honey. It's not only uncomfortable; it's downright embarrassing, what with the noise and the smell. Truth told, everyone - pregnant or not - has some gas. Did you know that the average person produces between one and four pints of gas each day? And, you may be surprised to learn that that same person passes gas about 14 to 23 times a day. However, once you become pregnant, you may well find yourself belching like a trucker or passing gas like the guy in the bar. You will no doubt find yourself unbuttoning your pants to take the pressure off your bloated belly long before your baby bump shows up.
Cause of Pregnancy Gas
So, you're wondering: what is it about pregnancy that causes all this gas?? There are a few factors at play. First of all, right at the beginning of your pregnancy, your body begins to produce large amounts of the hormones known as relaxin and progesterone. The effect of these hormones is to relax your muscles-all of them-including those of your gastrointestinal tract. This relaxation of the muscles causes the food to move at a slower pace through your digestive tract. This is beneficial to your developing fetus, but may lead to pregnancy symptoms such as indigestion and flatulence. Later on in the pregnancy, your growing uterus crowds your abdominal cavity and that slows digestion even more. It pushes on your stomach and you end up feeling even more bloated after eating. By the way, these are the same reasons you may experience heartburn or constipation during your pregnancy - even if you never experienced them before.
Where the Gas Comes From
Now we'll look at where all the gas actually comes from - just so you know. Gas gets caught in the digestive tract when you swallow air and when bacteria in your colon break down undigested food. Most stomach gas comes from swallowing air and typically, you just burp it back out again, although a small amount can continue down to the large intestine and come out the other end. Most of the gas that causes flatulence is produced in the large intestine when food is broken down that was not completed digested by the enzymes in the stomach and small intestine.
Expansion and Urgency
During pregnancy, your uterus expands and as it does so, places more and more pressure on your rectum. This can make it hard for you to exert control on the muscles in this area, and this also leads to your urgent need to expel gas.
There are steps you can take to minimize flatulence and its attendant discomfort:
1) Constipation can aggravate flatulence, so drink a lot of water to soften stools and make them easier to pass.
2) Don't eat three square meals a day. This is just too much for your system right now. It's better to aim for eating six, much smaller meals a day, so as not to overtax your digestive system.
3) Take your time at meals. Eating quickly causes you to swallow air, leading to pockets of gas in your tummy.
4) Avoid stress. Believe it or not, tension causes you to swallow air. Try to relax. Do something to make you feel good. Listen to music, take a nap, or read a good book.
5) Avoid gas-producing foods such as onions, cabbage, broccoli, beans, and fried foods. If you know of particular foods that tend to make you gassy, add them to the list.
6) Protein and fat produce little gas directly, although fats, because they slow down digestion, can contribute to a sense of bloating. It's carbohydrates you have to watch out for!
7) Try to keep your weight gain gradual and appropriate to your stage of pregnancy. This helps keep the pressure on your digestive tract to a minimum.