Pregnancy is not always easy on digestion. Increased progesterone levels and an expanding uterus can relax intestinal muscles and slow down your digestive processes. Add to that the stool-hardening effect of iron tablets—commonly prescribed during pregnancy—and it's no wonder you feel unpleasantly plugged. Constipation is uncomfortable, and it also puts you at risk of developing pregnancy-related horrors like hemorrhoids. A high-fiber diet can help you establish a more comfortable regularity, and eating fiber-rich foods is important for overall health and well-being during pregnancy and postpartum.
Benefits of Fiber
Fiber-rich foods are especially beneficial during pregnancy as they help prevent glucose intolerance, a condition that can sometimes lead to gestational diabetes. "Pregnant women with type 1 diabetes may be able to reduce the amount of insulin they use if they eat a high fiber diet," according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. A diet high in fiber during pregnancy may also help reduce the risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure and preeclampsia. The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women eat 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber each day.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber swells to form a gel-like substance in the digestive tract, which slows digestion of starch and sugar and helps lower cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber is sometimes known as "roughage" or "nature's broom" as it adds bulk to stools, enabling a smooth passage through the intestinal tract. Good sources of soluble fiber include fruits, vegetables, oats, legumes and barley. Good sources of insoluble fiber include fruit and vegetable peel, nuts, rye, wheat and rice.
Pregnant women should avoid products such as white bread and white rice as they have a high glycemic index, or GI, which means they quickly raise blood sugar levels. Regular snacking on foods with a high GI in the later stages of pregnancy increases likelihood of giving birth to a heavier baby who may be at greater risk of developing childhood obesity, according to Science Daily. Get your fiber fix instead from whole wheat breads, whole grain cereals and brown rice, which have a lower GI rating.
Fiber-Rich Meal Ideas
A bowl of oatmeal topped with fruit such as blueberries makes a tasty, high-fiber breakfast. If you find milk unpalatable due to morning sickness symptoms, make porridge with water instead, and add a little honey to sweeten.
During the third trimester, you might prefer lighter meals if you experience symptoms of heartburn or feel bloated after eating. Light, fiber-rich lunches and dinners include carrot and lentil soup, baked beans on toast made from oat-bran bread, a mixed vegetable stir fry, or a mixed salad with bulgur wheat and chickpeas.
Eat fiber-rich snacks like dried fruit and unsalted nuts, which also provide healthful amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals. Also remember to eat your greens. "Green vegetables help regulate blood sugar levels and give you the bulk fiber needed to promote glowing skin and intestinal health. Try mesclun, kale, collards, chard and arugula, and buy organic whenever possible," says Latham Thomas, author of "Mama Glow: A Guide to Your Fabulous Abundant Pregnancy."
If you increase your fiber intake during pregnancy, it becomes especially important to drink sufficient fluids to keep your body hydrated and your digestive system working smoothly. The APA recommends an intake of between 10 and 12 cups of fluid each day. A homemade smoothie, made with unpeeled fruit and a tablespoon of flax seeds provides a health-boosting triple-whammy of nutrients, fiber and fluid. Or try coconut water. "Coconut water provides various benefits for expectant mothers throughout pregnancy. It contains essential nutrients, dietary fiber and lauric acid, which helps protect your body from infection," says holistic nutritionist, Barbara Karafokas, of the Med Life Diet website.
Most plant foods contain a combination of both types of fiber. According to Karafokas, the high-fiber content of a plant-based diet is important during pregnancy. "Plant proteins are easier for our bodies to digest and produce less toxic waste than animal proteins. The fiber in plants ensures healthy bowel movements and correct bacterial population in the gut and helps prevent the buildup of putrefactive bacteria produced by excess animal proteins." Karafokas advises pregnant women to avoid soy beans or soy products as they are mostly genetically engineered.