Bloating in pregnancy

What causes bloating during pregnancy, why does it happen in the early stages of being pregnant and what can you do about it?

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It’s all down to pregnancy hormones, isn’t it?

Well, yes. It’s really common to feel bloated during the early stages of pregnancy and it’s those hormones that are mostly to blame.

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In the first weeks, progesterone relaxes the smooth muscle in your digestive system. This slows down digestion so that there’s more time for the nutrients in food to reach your growing baby. But it can also cause bloating – especially after a big meal. So if you’re feeling puffy in the tummy but you’ve not yet got a baby bump, now you know why…

“Without the hormone progesterone, pregnancies would miscarry,” says obstetrician Dr Claire Hein. “But it also causes bloating by allowing the smooth muscle in the walls of the bowel to relax. Hormones often have several effects, some of them less desirable than others!”

Later on in pregnancy, as your baby grows, it all gets a bit crowded in your tummy. And the baby pushing on your stomach and intestines also slows down the digestion of food, leaving you bloated once more. Happy days.

How do I know if it’s bloating or a baby bump?

While it’s impossible to pin a date on when you’ll start to show, for most first-time mums, there probably won’t be much sign of an actual bump before 13 weeks – and for many, not much before 18 weeks. So if you’re still in the first trimester but you feel like you’re 5 months pregnant, it’s probably bloating that’s to blame.

“I’im 6+1 and definietly feeling bloated! Not really eating much either as feeling quite sicky!” – Melanie09

Please tell me the bloating will ease. Because it will. Won’t it?

Yes, it will. Honest. Many mums say that, by the end of the 1st 3 months of pregnancy, they feel less bloated and more comfortable after eating. Kelmo tells us: “I had bad bloating in the 1st trimester, I could easily pull off looking 5 months easily but… it did ease around 12 weeks!” – kelmo

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Could I be bloating because of something I’m eating?

Yep, quite possibly. To ease the symptoms of bloating, keep an eye on what you eat and make a note of any foods that make you bloat.

The foods most likely to cause wind (or make you fart, as we put it so plainly here at MFM) are those containing unabsorbable carbohydrates. Your body can’t digest these types of carbs properly – and rather than being absorbed into your intestines, they pass directly into your colon where bacteria break them down and produce gas.

These foods include:

  • artichokes
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • beans
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • prunes

You may also trump more after eating food and drink containing fructose (a type of sugar found in fruits) or the artificial sweetener sorbitol – so stay off the diet drinks and avoid chewing gum. 

So what can I take to relieve bloating?

As well as cutting down on foods that can cause bloating, you can try adding ones that help reduce it. Live yoghurt has been shown to help as have bananas – the potassium in them helps reduce bloating.

And taking exercise helps too. One Spanish study found that gentle exercise and standing upright helped get rid of gas and reduce bloating.

But what if I’ve got pain and cramps too?

There’s nothing wrong with taking some pain relief, like paracetamol, to ease the discomfort. But if your tummy pain ever feels like cramping or it gets unbearable, contact your GP or midwife.

It could be something innocent, like a stomach bug, but severe abdominal pain in later pregnancy, especially if it’s one-sided, could be a sign of the serious pregnancy condition pre-eclampsia.

And if your bloating feels like contractions or is accompanied by blood when you use the loo, severe diarrhoea or increased nausea and vomiting, do go and see your doctor. 

Kirsty, an MFMer who’s been there, done that and got the stretched t-shirt to prove it, told us, ‘I was really bloated and I also had a lot a pains/cramps which was quite scary in the first few weeks until I realised it was stomach pains not baby pains!! The doc gave me something to stop the cramping. The bloating will soon go away!”

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