The Science of Nutrition

Pregnant? It's Time to Look at your Gut Health

Dr. Heather Finley

Pregnant? It's Time to Look at your Gut Health

Table of contents

  • Intro
  • What Digestive Challenges Are Normal in Pregnancy?
  • How Do I Know When These are “Not Normal”?
  • What Can I Do About Constipation in Pregnancy?
  • What Can We Do About Nausea and Fatigue During Pregnancy?
  • What Can I Do About Heartburn During Pregnancy?
  • What Can I Do During Pregnancy to Support Gut Health?
  • The Bottom Line

0 min read


Understanding the importance of gut health is crucial for overall well-being, especially during pregnancy. As our bodies undergo changes, it's common to experience digestive issues that can lead to discomfort. That's where registered dietitian Dr. Heather Finley comes in to guide us through what to expect, how to support our gut, and why it's especially vital during pregnancy. Let's break it down together for clearer insights and better care. 

What digestive challenges are normal to expect during pregnancy?

It can be common to experience constipation, indigestion (heartburn) and increased gas during pregnancy. It is also common to experience morning sickness and nausea which can greatly impact appetite.  Most commonly women experience constipation, nausea and gas in the first trimester from the increase in progesterone while indigestion happens in later weeks due to the growing belly. 

How do I know when these challenges change from “normal” to concerning?

Good question. Like I mentioned in the previous question, it can be common to have these symptoms, but that does not mean they have to be your normal. If you are going multiple days without a bowel movement or experiencing indigestion that is preventing you from eating enough calories to meet yours and the baby's nutritional needs, this would be concerning and time to seek support from your practitioner.

What can I do about constipation during pregnancy? 

  • Hydration is key. Most women need to be drinking at least 80oz of water and can benefit from also adding electrolytes to their water. Needed has a great electrolyte + trace mineral powder that could be beneficial for your constipation (If your stools are hard and pebbly this is a sign you need more water).
  • Eat soft, well cooked fruits and vegetables versus large raw salads and fruits 
  • Consider using extra Magnesium (citrate or glycinate), but always check with your doctor on dosing and if this is appropriate for you. 
  • Ginger tea in between meals can help both nausea and constipation 
  • If you are still constipated you will want to also look at how you are eating…meaning are you taking your time, chewing your food well and spacing your meals out 3-4 hours if possible 
  • Use a prebiotic fiber supplement like sunfiber. Sunfiber is gentle enough to encourage the growth of “good” bacteria in the gut while also helping to bulk and move stools. 

What can we do about nausea and fatigue during pregnancy? Is this linked to gut health?

Once you become pregnant, estrogen and progesterone increase which alters the gut microbiota. Your metabolism also slows to extract more nutrients from foods (which is a good thing.) It can sometimes manifest as part of uncomfortable side affects. But there are things you can do help naturally elevate it.

For Nausea

  • Eat enough protein (try for 4-5 oz per meal)
  • Drink plenty of water with electrolytes
  • Eat as soon as you wake up
  • If needed, eat small more frequent meals
  • Give yourself grace about what you are eating (stressing about it isn’t going to help!)
  • Drink ginger tea
  • Get morning sunlight 
  • SLEEP as much as you can

For Fatigue: 

  • Sleep and nap as you can 
  • Give yourself grace for needing to say “no” to things so you can rest
  • Balance your blood sugar by including protein, fat and carbohydrates with each meal
  • Eat carbs with friends (aka protein and/or fat): No lonely carbs!
  • If you are having food aversions prioritize fruits and vegetables by blending them into smoothies 
  • Get morning sunlight
  • Consider scaling back workouts and focus on lighter and less intense workouts 

What can I do about heartburn during pregnancy and why does it happen?

Heartburn can happen for several reasons but most commonly, the belly expanding and putting extra pressure on the digestive tract and hormonal shifts 

What you can do: 

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals 
  • Use digestive enzymes that are safe for pregnancy to aid digestion
  • Drink slippery elm tea (ask your provider first!)
  • Use a supplement or tea that contains spearmint, ginger, lemon balm, marshmallow or milk thistle (ask your provider) 
  • Chew, chew, chew your food (to applesauce consistency)
  • Eat slowly and take your time
  • Take 2-3 deep breaths before eating to relax your digestive system and get into “rest and digest”
  • Keep your bowels moving–constipation will only worsen constipation
  • Don’t eat right before bed
  • Avoid spicy foods, caffeine and any other triggers you notice if needed 

What can I do before and during pregnancy to support gut health?

There is so much you can do while pregnant to support both your microbiome and the baby’s microbiome. 

  • Most important is to reduce stress as much as possible. Stress can cause it to be harder for the gut digest and absorb as it is designed.
  • Another very important thing is to eat a wide variety of foods (particularly plant foods). This may not be possible in your first trimester and I totally get this. I was super sick and nauseated for 18 weeks in both of my pregnancies, so give yourself grace. Prioritize as many different plants as you can from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes and herbs. 
  • You can also take a probiotic tailored to pregnancy to support both yours and baby’s gut health. 
  • Digestive enzymes are beneficial in aiding food breakdown. If you are struggling with heartburn, constipation, slow motility or even seeing undigested foods in your stool, you may benefit from support of a digestive enzyme. 
  • Collagen Protein is beneficial for aiding protein intake in pregnancy and postpartum when needs are higher. Collagen is also beneficial for those that struggle with breaking down “harder to digest” proteins like meats due to heartburn or early fullness. Remember to include collagen with Vitamin C to aid in absorption. 

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, navigating the nuances of gut health during pregnancy requires attention, care, and sometimes a helping hand from professionals like Dr. Heather Finley. By understanding what to expect, how to address common challenges, and the significance of nurturing our gut microbiome, expectant mothers can embark on this journey with confidence and well-being.

Like the article? Share it!

Dr. Heather Finley, DCN, MS, RDN, CEDRD

Dr. Heather Finley is a registered dietitian who helps people struggling with bloating, constipation, and IBS find relief from their symptoms and feel excited about food again. Heather struggled with her own digestive issues for nearly 20 years and understands firsthand the impact that nutrition, lifestyle, and mindset have on digestive health. Gut health shouldn’t be restrictive, stressful, and all-consuming. She developed a simple way that individuals can reduce digestive symptoms and add foods back into their diet using her trademarked gutTogether method. Dr. Heather has a doctorate in clinical nutrition from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Her work has been featured in Mind Body Green, Yahoo! Life, and Very Well Health.