Why Fiber Should Be Your Best Friend During Pregnancy
For women, if there is ever a time to really start caring about your nutrition, it’s during pregnancy.
Your meals and eating habits can cause or significantly impact a range of pregnancy symptoms, including constipation, preeclampsia, and heartburn. But, thankfully, fiber is here to save the day.
It is common for pregnant mothers to feel constipated throughout the whole pregnancy. Caused by a wide range of symptoms, constipation can be treated with sufficient fluid intake and increased fiber intake (1,2). Research has shown that these two solutions can alleviate the symptoms of constipation by softening the stool for passing and adding bulk to the stool to promote bowel movements (3). To further promote bowel movements, daily exercise is highly recommended (1). Therefore, we recommend increasing dietary fiber intake for pregnant mothers who are feeling constipated. For example, one FYBR bar a day!
Preeclampsia is the most common complication during pregnancy, affecting ~6% of all pregnancies in the U.S (4). Its signs are high blood pressure and protein in the urine, and if left untreated, could lead to dire health consequences for the mother and child (4).
Although that sounds scary, 1) high blood pressure doesn’t mean you have preeclampsia, and 2) there is a proven way to lower risk of preeclampsia: dietary fiber intake. Studies have shown that a high fiber diet in early pregnancy is associated with a reduced risk of preeclampsia (5,6). Thus, eating high fiber foods daily, such as fruits, vegetables, and cereal, like the studies suggest, help to prevent preeclampsia (5,6).
Similarly to constipation, heartburn, or acid reflux, is also common for pregnant mothers, with an incidence in pregnancy of “17% to 45%” (7). Although it’s not as serious as preeclampsia, heartburn can be extremely uncomfortable and often painful.
Usual treatments for heartburn include eating smaller meals throughout the day, drinking water before meals, and avoiding fatty and spicy foods (8). Another treatment can be dietary fiber; studies have shown that fiber-enriched diets help to relieve symptoms of reflux disease (9,10).
Also, consistency and duration seem to be important factors: a “consistent consumption of fiber throughout the day over a long period of time” was shown to increase fiber’s ability to reduce heartburn symptoms (9).
Nutrition in pregnancy could not be more important. Thus, it is crucial to make sure that pregnant women are eating nourishing meals with high fiber to optimize their health and relieve the common symptoms/complications of pregnancy: constipation, preeclampsia, and heartburn.
Author: Haekyeung Kang, BS, Nutrition and Dietetics, NYU, 2017-2021
(1) Trottier M, Erebara A, Bozzo P. Treating constipation during pregnancy. Can Fam Physician. 2012;58(8):836-838.
(2) Williamson, C.S. (2006), Nutrition in pregnancy. Nutrition Bulletin, 31: 28-59. doi:10.1111/j.1467-3010.2006.00541.x
(3) Gordon, Barbara. “Tips for Preventing Constipation.” EatRight.org, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 22 Oct. 2019, https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/digestive-health/tips-for-preventing-constipation.
(4) “Overview- Preeclampsia.” NHS Choices, NHS, 7 June 2018, www.nhs.uk/conditions/pre-eclampsia/.
(5) Frederick, Ihunnaya O et al. “Dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium and calcium in relation to the risk of preeclampsia.” The Journal of reproductive medicine vol. 50,5 (2005): 332-44.
(6) Qiu, Chunfang et al. “Dietary fiber intake in early pregnancy and risk of subsequent preeclampsia.” American journal of hypertension vol. 21,8 (2008): 903-9. doi:10.1038/ajh.2008.209
(7) Vazquez, Juan C. “Heartburn in pregnancy.” BMJ clinical evidence vol. 2015 1411. 8 Sep. 2015
(8) Christiano, Donna. “Heartburn in Pregnancy: 11 Treatments to Put Out the Fire.” Edited by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, Healthline Parenthood, Healthline Media, 13 Aug. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/heartburn-during-pregnancy.
(9) Archana, Jaiswal M., et al. "High Dietary Fiber Consumption is Not Associated with Gastrointestional Discomfort in a Diet Intervention Trial." American Dietetic Association.Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 102, no. 4, 2002, pp. 549-51. ProQuest, http://proxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/docview/218461926?accountid=12768.
(10) Morozov, Sergey et al. “Fiber-enriched diet helps to control symptoms and improves esophageal motility in patients with non-erosive gastroesophageal reflux disease.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 24,21 (2018): 2291-2299. doi:10.3748/wjg.v24.i21.2291