The Power of Real Food – Tips for Common Pregnancy Complaints (Part 1 of HMM Series)

The Power of Real Food – Tips for Common Pregnancy Complaints (Part 1 of HMM Series)

Let’s face it, not every woman experiences great hair and glowing skin during pregnancy. I certainly was not one of these women. The ugly truth is that pregnancy often comes with anytime-of-the-day “morning” sickness, heartburn, constipation, acne, and/or stretch marks. If you are experiencing one of these complaints, you are not alone. That’s why this week we will be discussing how to use real food to help combat these common pregnancy complaints, because a healthy, happy mama (both mind and body) means a happy, healthy baby!


But first, here are the answers to last week’s True or False Quiz as promised:

  1. Morning sickness is your body’s way of getting rid of toxins. — T
  2. Eating fish during pregnancy is not safe because our oceans are too polluted, thus making fish unsafe to eat. — F
  3. Exercising while pregnant can help prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. — T
  4. Fat makes you fat. — F
  5. Pregnant women need extra protein. — T
  6. All carbohydrates are created equal. — F
  7. Gestational Diabetes cannot be prevented. — F
  8. All 3 macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels. — F
  9. All pregnant women should strive to eat a 2,200-calorie diet because quantity is more important than the quality of our food. — F
  10. There are some foods that should be avoided during pregnancy. — T


Now, let’s get started with this week’s topic, The Power of Real Food – Tips for Common Pregnancy Complaints (Part 1). You deserve to feel your best when you are expecting!


  1. Morning Sickness

Some experts believe that morning sickness is beneficial to your unborn baby by protecting him or her from the toxins in your food. Another theory is that morning sickness may be caused by low blood sugar and hormone fluctuations, or from micronutrient deficiencies (especially B6 and zinc). Here are some loving guidelines to help you with nausea and morning sickness:

• Reduce your toxic load by eating a clean diet and using safe personal care and household products.

• Control your blood sugar by eating balanced meals and snacks that contain all three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbs. In addition, avoid excess refined sugar and fructose because of their negative impact on blood sugar.

• Don’t let your stomach get empty. Eat more frequently throughout the day to prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low, which can trigger nausea. Low blood sugar commonly occurs when you wake up in the morning or when you go many hours without eating. To prevent this eat small, frequent meals about every 2 to 3 hours and eat within 30 minutes upon awakening.

• When dealing with a queasy stomach it is best to eat foods that are easier to digest and more nutritious than saltines or ginger ale. Such foods include homemade smoothies, plain yogurt (if you an tolerate dairy products), homemade bone broth, avocado, squash, plantains or bananas, scrambled eggs, fish, and chicken. Be sure to avoid greasy and fried foods!

• Stay hydrated! Make sure you are replacing lost fluids with lots of water and electrolytes, like sodium and potassium. Consider drinking coconut water, which some experts say is very similar to human blood plasma. Coconut water is a better choice than Gatorade or other sports drinks because it does not contain added sugar or artificial flavors.

• Correct any nutrient deficiencies (this will require lab testing and supplementation, if needed).

• Track the trigger of your nausea. A lot of times a certain taste or smell can be the trigger. Fried, greasy, or spicy foods are common to cause discomfort (they are also harder to digest). Avoid your trigger foods and get some fresh air.

• You may consider trying Dr. Sears’ Pregnancy Super-Smoothie recipe. Sipping on a smoothie throughout the day may prevent nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.

• Try these stomach-soothing remedies: lemon (lemon tea, lemon Preggo Pop Drops, lemon water), ginger (ginger tea, ginger Tummydrops), chamomile tea, or homemade fruit juice popsicles.


  1. Heartburn

Heartburn or acid reflux is very common during pregnancy. Some may say that if you experience bad heartburn during pregnancy you will have a baby with a full head of hair. This is an old wives tale! Heartburn is due to the lower esophageal sphincter not closing all of the way (this is the valve between the stomach and the esophagus), which allows stomach acid to pass more easily and cause irritation. During pregnancy the hormone progesterone can cause this valve to relax and slows down digestion, leading to less stomach acid. So despite popular belief, heartburn is actually caused by not enough stomach acid. In addition, during pregnancy your baby puts increased pressure on your abdomen, allowing stomach acid to pass back up into the esophagus and making it harder to digest large portions of food. Here are some general guidelines to help relieve and prevent heartburn symptoms during pregnancy:

• Slow down when you eat and chew twice as long to allow your body to better digest your food.

• Eat smaller, frequent meals.

• Keep propped up and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Eat at least 2 hours before going to bed.

• Sleep with your head propped up or try sleeping on your left side.

• Avoid spicy and acidic foods, like tomato, citrus fruits, peppers, onions.

• Avoid other aggravating foods/beverages, like caffeine (coffee, tea, soda), chocolate, sugar, fizzy drinks, and obviously alcohol.

• Eating fatty foods commonly triggers acid reflux. Avoid excessive fat intake from fatty and fried foods.

• Drink fluids between meals, not with meals to prevent diluting your digestive juices.

• Test for low stomach acid (specifically hydrochloric acid or HCL): 1) Drink ½ teaspoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with water before each meal. If you do not experience a burning sensation or pressure between your breast bone then you likely are not producing enough HCL. 2) Drink ¼ teaspoon of baking soda with 8 ounces of water. Baking soda will cause your stomach to produce carbon dioxide, causing you to belch. If you do not belch within 5 minutes then you likely are not producing enough HCL. *Repeat these tests to determine if you are truly not producing enough stomach acid.

• Increase stomach acid naturally with raw apple cider vinegar. Drink 1 teaspoon (up to 1 Tablespoon) mixed with 8 ounces of water about 30 minutes to an hour before each meal (or you can sip on this beverage throughout the day). Alternatively, you can try drinking fresh lemon water or tea before each meal. Mix 2 to 4 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice with a minimum of 8 ounces of water.

• Identify and avoid food sensitivities.


  1. Constipation

Constipation is characterized by infrequent bowel movements less than 3 times per week, hard stool, or stools that are difficult to pass. Constipation is another common pregnancy complaint, and yet again, pregnancy hormones are to blame. The hormone progesterone causes relaxation of smooth muscles in the intestines and slows down digestion. Below are some guidelines to help relieve and treat constipation:

• Slow down and take more time when you eat.

• Eat smaller, frequent meals.

• Eat a diet high in fiber – fruits, vegetables, whole grains (if tolerated, choose low glycemic grains like rye, barley, quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat), legumes, nuts and seeds. *Watch out for packaged products that claim to be “high fiber” (such as FiberOne chewy bars). These foods often contain added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and a bunch of other unnecessary ingredients that lack important nutrients for your baby.

• Nutritional Supplements: *These recommendations are for general purposes only. As with any nutritional supplement, it is best to work with a healthcare practitioner that can develop a personalized supplement plan with specific dosages that are specific for your needs. 

• Wheat bran and psyllium husk are two common treatments for constipation.

• Prunes or prune juice may be helpful with improving constipation due to their high sorbitol content, which has a laxative effect.

• Flaxseed oil and flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed) has been used to treat constipation. However, it is not recommended for women to consume large amounts of flaxseed meal during pregnancy or lactation due to its estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects. Flaxseed oil is a better choice if other remedies have not been proven to be helpful.

• Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus in yogurt, has been known to effectively treat constipation in both adults and children. Additionally, eating lacto-fermented foods, like sauerkraut, may help constipation due to their beneficial effects on peristaltic movements (the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the muscles) of the intestine.

• Magnesium salts such as magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt), magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia), and magnesium citrate may help relieve constipation by acting as a laxative.

• Vitamin C may also be a helpful laxative. The amount need to be effective is about 1 to 5 g per day. *Always start with low dosages when introducing a new supplement into your diet.

• Sip on a high-fiber liquid, like a smoothie, throughout the day (see Dr. Sears’ Pregnancy Super-Smoothie recipe).

• Drink plenty of water to prevent stools from getting too hard.

• Exercise regularly, if permitted during pregnancy.

• Consider buying a Squatty Potty to improve the antorectal angle (aka: it allows for easier elimination).

• If suffering from chronic constipation (even before pregnancy), consider testing for food sensitivities and seeking out a healthcare professional that can help you identify the root cause of your constipation.


  1. Acne

Acne during pregnancy is likely due to hormonal changes, in which case there is not much that you can do to prevent it. However, if your acne started before pregnancy then there is a good chance that diet can improve your skin. Research has shown that skin disorders are commonly associated with gut problems, so improving your gut health is an important place to start when trying to heal your skin. Here are some guidelines to help treat and prevent acne during pregnancy:

• Eat a diet comprised of real, whole foods.

• Identify and avoid food sensitivities. Common triggers are sugar, wheat, and dairy.

• Increase dietary omega-3 fats. These healthy fats have been shown to improve acne. Great food sources include fish, like salmon, sardines, and anchovies.

• Add lacto-fermented foods into your diet, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. These foods contain beneficial probiotics needed for a healthy gut.

• Add additional gut-supporting foods to your diet like homemade bone broth. This broth is traditionally made from knucklebones and is much more nutrient-dense than soup. Bones and connective tissue are full of important nutrients, like gelatin and collagen, which are helpful in healing your gut and skin.

• Work with a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable in gut health or try a protocol specific for healing the gut, such as the GAPS diet or the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.


  1. Stretch Marks

Increasing the elasticity of your skin through nutrition can prevent stretch marks! Collagen is a key player in skin elasticity.

• Bone broth: As mentioned above, collagen and gelatin are found in animal bones like knucklebones, which are commonly used for making bone broth. These nutrients used to be a staple in our diet but are lacking in today’s modern diet. Bone broth can be used in soups, stews, gravies, or can be sipped like coffee.

• Protein powder: Another great way to incorporate more collagen into your diet is to use a good quality protein powder made from grass-fed cows, such as Great Lakes. This particular protein powder is unflavored and can be mixed in hot or cold beverages.


I offer nutrition services for women who are pregnant, postpartum, or trying to conceive. At Halley Holloway Nutrition I use Medical Nutrition Therapy with a functional medicine approach to best help my clients. Nutrition is not “one size fits all”, which is why I work with you to develop an individualized nutrition plan that supports your health goals. With your commitment I can help you boost your fertility, have a healthy pregnancy, and ultimately have a happy baby! I will be your teacher, coach, and motivator!

Stay tuned for next week’s post, Protein, part 2 of our Healthy Mommy & Me series!
Cheers to real nutrition for healthy beginnings!


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