Bloating during pregnancy is to be expected; it is rarely a cause for concern.
Bloating may feel like having an inflated balloon in the belly.
Along with constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), doctors consider bloating to be a functional bowel disorder (FBD).
Although the prevalence can be difficult to gauge, bloating is a fairly common complaint, both among the general population and among pregnant women. One study in pregnant women found that 49% of participants reported bloating.
One possible cause of bloating during pregnancy is hormonal fluctuation. Pregnancy hormones relax the womb, and the digestive muscles also relax, slowing digestion.
This can lead to constipation, a common challenge for pregnant women, and constipation can cause a person to feel bloated.
Bloating often develops in the first trimester, and it may get worse during the third trimester — beginning in week 29 — as the fetus takes up more space and presses on surrounding organs.
Also, women who have IBS prior to pregnancy may find that their symptoms become worse or more frequent during pregnancy. IBS causes frequent pain in the abdomen, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and other symptoms.
In addition, heightened emotions and awareness of their bodies can make pregnant women more aware of sensations in their small intestines. For this reason, a pregnant woman may feel bloating more intensely than someone who is not pregnant.
It may be worth keeping in mind that bloating is the main symptom of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which can occur in anyone.
Some women have found over-the-counter (OTC) supplements, such as probiotics, and stool softeners to be helpful. However, doctors do not tend to recommend laxatives, OTC or otherwise, to pregnant women.
Be cautious about taking any medication or supplement during pregnancy, including herbal products, and discuss all symptoms and treatment options thoroughly with a physician.
One of the most effective ways to ward off bloating during pregnancy is by preventing constipation. Strategies for this include:
- drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day
- gradually increasing the intake of fiber by eating more fresh fruit, dried fruit, and whole grains
- making regular physical activity a priority
Medical treatment for bloating during pregnancy is usually unnecessary.
One study found documented treatment in 55% of cases in which pregnant women reported FBD symptoms to their healthcare providers. But half of the time, these “treatments” were dietary changes and watchful waiting.
When a physician is addressing bloating during pregnancy, they will:
- Evaluate the woman’s symptoms and compare them with the amount of bloating-related discomfort that is considered “normal” during pregnancy.
- Determine whether there is any health condition that needs treatment.
- Recommend or prescribe medication for constipation.
- Prescribe antibiotics for SIBO, if it is present.
To avoid bloating during pregnancy:
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
- Have a well-balanced diet full of whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and other fiber-rich foods.
- Avoid high-fat foods.
- Eat fewer foods that cause gas, including beans, cabbage, legumes, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
- Limit fluids with meals, and hydrate between meals instead.
- Drink at least 8–10 glasses of water per day.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Do not drink alcohol.
- Get regular, gentle physical activity.
- Avoid eating right before bed.
Bloating during pregnancy can be expected and is usually harmless. However, in rare cases, it can point to another health issue that needs to be addressed.
See a doctor if bloating feels constant, or it occurs with any of the following issues:
- weight loss
- symptoms of anemia, such as fatigue and light-headedness
- pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
- frequent bouts of nausea, diarrhea, or both
Many women experience bloating during pregnancy, and hormonal changes, constipation, or both may be the cause.
Dietary and lifestyle adjustments can help prevent bloating, and a healthcare provider can offer additional suggestions.