Raised levels of the hormone progesterone relax the intestines during pregnancy. This relaxation slows digestion, making constipation more likely and often leading to bloating, belching, and flatulence.
A woman may also experience more gas during the later stages of pregnancy, when the growing fetus places additional pressure on the abdominal cavity.
While it is impossible to prevent gas during pregnancy, several safe home remedies can reduce gas and relieve discomfort. Many of these prevent constipation, which significantly contributes to gas.
1. Drinking plenty of water
Higher levels of progesterone during pregnancy can slow digestion and cause gas.
The United States National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, recommend that pregnant women drink around 10 cups, or 2.3 liters, of water a day.
Drinking water before or after a meal helps the stomach digest food. Any undigested food passes into the small intestines, where bacteria break it down, producing gas in the process. Staying hydrated can, therefore, help reduce the buildup of gas.
Hydration can also prevent constipation, another cause of gas. When a person is dehydrated, their stool becomes dry and hard. Drinking plenty of water keeps stool soft, helping it pass more easily through the colon.
Also, it is best to sip slowly, rather than gulp. People are more likely to swallow air when they gulp, which can contribute to gas.
2. Avoiding certain drinks
Some people experience gas when they drink beverages containing the following ingredients:
Carbon dioxide is a gas in a wide range of drinks, including:
- cola and other sodas
- carbonated energy drinks
- sparkling (fizzy) waters, including tonic water
People get rid of most of this gas through belching, but carbon dioxide can also cause flatulence.
The added sugars or artificial sweeteners in many carbonated drinks can also contribute to intestinal gas.
Fructose is a natural sugar that occurs in most fruits. Manufacturers often add fructose to a variety of desserts and drinks.
Some people are unable to digest fructose. In this case, the sugar can ferment in the large intestine, causing gas and bloating. The medical term for this digestive disorder is fructose malabsorption.
Sorbitol is a low-calorie sugar substitute. However, the body is unable to digest sorbitol. Some people experience abdominal pain, bloating, and gas as a result.
3. Keeping a food diary
During pregnancy, many women choose to eat a more healthful diet. Many healthful foods are rich in fiber, and adding them to the diet can increase the amount of gas in the short term.
Some high-fiber foods also contain complex carbohydrates called oligosaccharides. When bacteria in the gut break down oligosaccharides, they produce nitrogen gas. Some people are more sensitive to this effect than others.
Foods that contain oligosaccharides include:
- whole grains
- Brussels sprouts
Keeping a food diary can help to show whether any foods are contributing to the severity of gas.
4. Eating more fiber
It is important to drink plenty of fluids when adopting a high-fiber diet.
Although high-fiber foods can increase gas in the short term, over time they help to reduce constipation, which is a major cause of intestinal gas.
Fiber achieves this by drawing in water and softening stool. This eases its passage through the intestines, speeding digestion and giving gas less time to build up.
If a person is switching to a high-fiber diet, the following strategies can help prevent temporary increases in gas:
- raising the fiber intake gradually over a period of months
- eating only small portions of high-fiber foods to allow sufficient time for digestion
- chewing food thoroughly so that it is easier for the stomach to digest
- drinking plenty of fluids, ensuring that there is enough water to soften fibrous stools
5. Taking fiber supplements
Fiber supplements can help relieve gas by reducing constipation.
A 2015 systematic review found that pregnant women who took these supplements had more frequent bowel movements and better stool consistency than those who did not. The authors noted that confirming these findings will require more research. Speak to a doctor before taking any supplements while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Fiber supplements are available to purchase online.
6. Exercising regularly
Research suggests that exercise can speed up digestion and relieve constipation.
A 2012 study of 49 healthy adults found that moderate and high levels of physical activity improved colon transit in females, but not males.
Colon transit is the amount of time it takes for stool to pass through the large intestine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that healthy pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, per week. It is best to divide this activity over multiple days.
The CDC also recommend that women who do high-intensity aerobic activity, such as running, ask their doctors how to adjust their exercise regimes during pregnancy.
7. Wearing comfortable clothing
Clothes that are tight around the waist can put added pressure on the abdomen, which may increase the buildup of gas.
Wearing loose-fitting maternal wear in the later stages of pregnancy can help to alleviate this problem.
8. Reducing stress levels
Meditation and yoga can aid relaxation during pregnancy.
Some people experience worse gas when they are stressed.
This may be because people tend to gulp down air when they are anxious. Stress-related gas can also be a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder that causes abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits. Other symptoms can include:
Women who experience stress-induced gas during pregnancy may benefit from stress-management and relaxation therapies, such as meditation and yoga.
A 2016 review of evidence suggests that yoga can be a safe and effective treatment for people with IBS symptoms, though the researchers note that further high-quality studies are needed.
When to see a doctor
A pregnant woman may feel discomfort from gas and bloating, but these symptoms rarely affect the baby.
However, consult a doctor if gas accompanies:
- severe abdominal pain lasting longer than 30 minutes
- constipation lasting longer than 1 week
- diarrhea lasting longer than 2 days
- black or bloody stools
- nausea and vomiting
These symptoms can indicate a more serious underlying issue, so a doctor's evaluation is important.
Increased gas during pregnancy is common. While it can be uncomfortable and even painful, it is rarely a cause for concern.
Certain lifestyle and dietary changes can help, including drinking plenty of fluids, keeping a food diary, and exercising regularly. Many of these remedies focus on preventing constipation, which is a significant cause of gas.
See a doctor if painful and persistent episodes of gas, or other concerning symptoms, occur during pregnancy.