Especially during pregnancy, we want to make sure digestion is supported top to bottom with enzymatic function. Digestive enzymes help our bodies absorb nutrients for nearly all cellular function. During pregnancy this is particularly important as we are supporting both the health of the pregnant person and the health of the growing fetus. While there are a host of reasons why digestive symptoms arise in pregnancy, looking directly at what symptoms are can often direct what the best possible support can be.
The bulk of digestive enzymes are secreted by the pancreas. However, saliva contains enzymes that help breakdown starch, HCL is a digestive enzyme that helps keep pH balance in the stomach and set the stage for healthy digestive function as food travels to the small intestine. The liver makes bile and the gallbladder stores and secretes the bile to help us absorb fat soluble nutrients and vitamins. As you can see, it’s a well wired and complex system. When enzymes are working sub optimally, we can do a lot to help support them!
General support for signaling healthy digestive enzymes:
Smell your food, this begins while you’re cooking. This is often the first signal to our nervous system to prepare for something nourishing. Enzymes begin signaling, even with just smelling food!
Eat your food in a calm environment. This helps signal our calm, parasympathetic, rest and digest nervous system response for healthy enzyme secretion.
Before meals you may further stimulate enzyme secretion by drinking fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (1 tsp lemon juice or ACV in 4 oz warm water). You may also consider a glycerite or tonic of bitter herbs including ginger, fennel and/or peppermint. Take one serving before meals.
Chew your bites 33 times. This helps more fully masticate food, allowing nutrients to be more effectively absorbed.
For particular symptoms that might arise during pregnancy:
If you’re having heartburn: consider supplementing with HCL or drinking peppermint or fennel tea.
If you’re having gas/bloating: consider pancreatic enzymes or bitter herbs, drinking warm water with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
If you’re having constipation: consider beets or an enzyme supplement that contains bile salts. Also ensure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day (3 liters on average).
If you’re having right sided abdominal pain this may be a symptom of gallbladder congestion. Consider ¼ beet a day.
If you’re having nausea: consider eating a small snack every 1.5 - 2 hours to help stabilize blood sugar. Snacks with complex carbohydrates, protein and fat will help keep blood sugar stable for a longer time. Some of our favorite snacks include:
Apple, banana or pear slices with nut butter
Veggie sticks with hummus
A handful of nuts and dried fruit
Whole grain or rice crackers and nut butter or hummus
With all the other physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy, begin monitoring and supporting your digestion early. A well-nourished pregnancy can only benefit both the pregnant person and their growing fetus.