Fix It With Food
Your Pregnancy|December 2020/January 2021
Self-medicate a range of pregnancy symptoms safely – with what you eat.
Margot Bertelsmann

Whether it’s swollen feet or seeing stars, reflux or retching,the tortures your pregnant body inflicts on itself are certainly inventive. Yet most medicines are on the “no” list during pregnancy – irony alert! So trick your body right back: many foods contain ingredients that can counteract common pregnancy niggles. Here’s our guide:

1 NAUSEA

Only a very few lucky women seem to escape the horrid feeling of nausea, at least for around weeks six to 14 of pregnancy. The theory is that the rush of the hormone hCG and possibly oestrogen, a hypersensitivity to smell, and the physical changes in a sensitive tummy cause the sensation.

But isn’t it weird how you can be starving even while nauseous? This is because, in pregnancy, nausea is often caused by low blood sugar, explains Shirley Norman, a registered dietician from Johannesburg. Your body needs extra kilojoules for the work of building your baby – up to 1 900 of them a day by the third trimester. “Frequent carb snacks can help stave off nausea caused by low blood sugar,” Shirley says. “Your body needs the extra energy, but you can choose low-GI snacks such as a Provita with Marmite. And tart, spicy flavours such as lemon and ginger steeped in hot water also seem to alleviate nausea.”

IF THIS DOESN’T WORK: If you’re losing weight, dehydrating and battling to keep any food down, your doctor may diagnose hyperemesis gravidarum and prescribe pills that are safe to use.

2 HEARTBURN

Heartburn or acid reflux occurs when stomach acids are forced up the oesophagus, literally burning your throat. It’s worse in pregnancy, whether we’re blaming softening ligaments, or less space in the stomach, which make it easier for gastric juices to force themselves through to where they’re not welcome.

Eat a papaya. “Paw paw is known to help indigestion symptoms because it contains papain, an enzyme that helps break down food,” says Joburg dietician Busisiwe Mafentile. Also try melon, cantaloupe and watermelon.

Milk or a yoghurt can help, as dairy products are not acidic, so they act as a buffer solution, absorbing some acid in your stomach and lessening the symptoms when you do regurgitate. But fatty foods and heavy tomato-based sauces are known to worsen reflux. For bolognese sauce, go easy on the tomato, and use half beans, half extra-lean mince to cut the fat.

IF THIS DOESN’T WORK: Most over-the-counter heartburn remedies are now safe for pregnancy, but do check with your doctor first.

3 CONSTIPATION

Your pregnancy hormones are making your bowels relax and shift food through the gut slower, while the growing bulk on your belly can also block things up. Your iron supplement might also be a culprit. Drink lots of water to soften the stool, exercise to encourage peristaltic movement – and eat foods known to, you know, stimulate things.

IF THIS DOESN’T WORK: In extreme cases your doctor may prescribe a bowel-bulking laxative, but never self-medicate, because stimulant or herbal laxatives are not safe for use in pregnancy.

4 WATER RETENTION

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