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What to Eat When You're Pregnant and Vegetarian Common complaints and how to deal with them - Heartburn,Excessive thirst,Constipation

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Heartburn

While morning sickness tends to strike at the beginning of pregnancy, heartburn is more likely to be a problem in the last three months. The main symptom is a burning sensation in the chest, caused by acids going back up the oesophagus (food pipe) from the stomach. A muscle valve usually prevents this from happening, but during pregnancy hormonal changes cause muscle relaxation and the valve becomes less effective.

Heartburn can be particularly bad after a large meal or during activities that involve bending down, such as cleaning the floor or even just picking something up. The pressure of the growing baby on the stomach can make heartburn worse as pregnancy progresses. This is particularly true for those expecting twins, as the uterus is inevitably larger and therefore presses more on the stomach. In the last weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s head may move down into your pelvis in preparation for the birth. The head is then said to be ‘engaged’. This usually reduces the pressure on the mother’s stomach and the symptoms of heartburn are often reduced. The good news is that when the baby is delivered, heartburn generally disappears almost instantly.

There are several things you can do to ease the symptoms of heartburn:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothes to reduce extra pressure on your stomach.
  • Avoid becoming too full, by eating little and often instead of having large meals. Also, don’t drink too much at mealtimes so that your stomach doesn’t become so full.
  • Try to identify trigger foods and avoid them, especially in the evening. Common culprits include spicy food, citrus fruits, rich and fatty foods, tea and coffee, and bananas.
  • When you eat, sit upright instead of slouching, and try not to rush.
  • Try staying upright for a while after meals and avoid eating for a couple of hours before going to bed.
  • When you go to bed, prop yourself up with several pillows.
  • Milk is good for neutralising the stomach acid and easing symptoms, so try drinking a small glass before bed or have some ready to sip during the night.
  • Homeopathy, aromatherapy and yoga may all help.

If you suffer from severe heartburn then talk to your doctor or midwife. They will be able to prescribe a suitable antacid or anti-reflux medicine. Not all treatments are suitable for pregnancy, so before taking anything it is best to check with your doctor, your midwife or a pharmacist.

Excessive thirst

Many women feel more thirsty than usual during pregnancy. This is quite normal, as extra fluids are needed to allow your blood volume to increase and to produce and constantly replace the amniotic fluid your baby is swimming in. Some women also feel warmer than usual and lose water due to hot sweats, which further increases fluid needs. If your wee is dark yellow, this is a sign of dehydration and means you need to drink more. It may be due to severe morning sickness or it may be something simple, such as giving up coffee and not replacing it with other fluids. It’s important to make sure you have at least eight glasses of fluid a day.

A small number of women experience such a raging thirst that they end up having to carry around litre bottles of water at all times. Generally this is nothing to worry about, although it is worth talking to your doctor or midwife about it. If you are weeing more than usual as well as feeling very thirsty, it can be a sign of gestational diabetes and your doctor or midwife can check if this is the case.

Constipation

Constipation isn’t as common among vegetarians as among meat-eaters, and vegans tend to have less of a problem than lacto-ovo-vegetarians, as they usually have a higher fibre intake. However, constipation is more common for everyone during pregnancy because of hormonal changes. Increasing progesterone levels cause all the muscles in your body, including intestinal muscles, to relax, so food moves through your intestines more slowly. This helps your body absorb more nutrients from the food, but it can also lead to constipation. In addition, the pressure of your baby on your bowels can make going to the toilet more difficult. Iron supplements can also make matters worse. However, making a few adjustments to your diet and being as active as possible can go a long way towards easing the problem.

To treat constipation, try the following:

  • Eat plenty of fibre-rich foods such as wholemeal bread, wholegrain breakfast cereal, pulses and lots of fruit and vegetables.
  • Have some prunes or prune juice. This is an age-old remedy that really works. The laxative effect cannot be explained just by fibre – prunes contain similar amounts to other dried fruit, and prune juice has none at all, as it is filtered before bottling. It is more likely to be down to the high levels of sorbitol in prunes. This is a type of sugar that is absorbed very slowly and passes into the large intestine like fibre. Prunes also contain large amounts of phenolic compounds, which also have a natural laxative effect.
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids. Along with dietary fibre, water helps to make stools softer and bulkier, which means they are easier to pass.
  • Take some gentle exercise, such as walking, swimming or yoga.
  • When you go to the toilet, relax and take your time.
  • Switch iron supplements if necessary .

Ban bran

Sprinkling bran onto cereal or other foods may help relieve constipation but it isn’t a good idea. Bran comes from the outer layer of cereal grains, such as wheat or rice, and it contains lots of fibre. The problem is that it reduces the absorption of important vitamins and minerals, including iron and zinc. It is much better to eat fibre-rich foods such as wholemeal bread, pulses, vegetables and fruit, as these contain higher levels of essential nutrients.

If you still have constipation, talk to your midwife or doctor; they may prescribe laxatives that are safe to take during pregnancy. Not all laxatives are suitable.

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