Fix pregnancy symptoms with food!


Whether it’s swollen feet or seeing stars, reflux or retching, the tortures your pregnant body inflicts on itself are certainly inventive. Yet most medicines are on the ‘no’ list during pregnancy. So trick your body right back: Many foods contain ingredients that can counteract common pregnancy niggles. Here’s our guide:


Only a very few lucky women seem to escape the horrid feeling of nausea, at least for around weeks six to 14 of pregnancy. The theory is that the rush of the hormone hCG and possibly oestrogen, a hypersensitivity to smell, and the physical changes in a sensitive tummy cause the sensation.

But isn’t it weird how you can be starving even while nauseous? This is because, in pregnancy, nausea is often caused by low blood sugar, explains Shirley Norman, a registered dietician from Johannesburg. Your body needs extra kilojoules for the work of building your baby – up to 1900 of them a day by the third trimester. “Frequent carb snacks can help stave off nausea caused by low blood sugar,” says Shirley. “Your body needs the extra energy, but you can choose low-GI snacks such as a Provita with Marmite. And tart, spicy flavours such as lemon and ginger steeped in hot water also seem to alleviate nausea.”

If this doesn't work:

If you’re losing weight, dehydrating and battling to keep any food at all down, your doctor may diagnose hyperemesis gravidarium and prescribe pills which are safe for use in pregnancy.


Heartburn or acid reflux occurs when stomach acids are forced up the oesophagus, literally burning your throat. It’s worse in pregnancy, whether we’re blaming softening ligaments, or less space in the stomach, that make it easier for gastric juices to force themselves through to where they’re not welcome.

Eat a papaya. “Paw-paw is known to help indigestion symptoms because it contains papain, an enzyme that helps break down food,” says Joburg dietician Busisiwe Mafentile. Also try melon, cantaloupe and watermelon.

Milk or a yoghurt can help, as dairy products are not acidic, so they act as a buffer solution, absorbing some acid in your stomach and lessening the symptoms when you doregurgitate. But fatty foods and heavy tomato-based sauces are known to worsen reflux. For Bolognese sauce, go easy on the tomato and use half beans, half extra-lean mince to cut the fat.

If this doesn't work:

Most over-the-counter heartburn remedies are now safe for pregnancy, but check with your doctor first. 


Your pregnancy hormones are making your bowels relax and shift food through the gut slower, while the growing bulk on your belly can also block things up. Your iron supplement might also be a culprit. Drink lots of water to soften the stool, exercise to encourage peristaltic movement –and eat foods known to, you know, stimulate things.

If this doesn't work:

In extreme cases your doctor may prescribe a bowel-bulking laxative, but never self-medicate, because stimulant or herbal laxatives are not safe for use in pregnancy.

Water retention

You are carrying a lot more fluid in your body while you are pregnant, and your circulation is sluggish. In addition, your kidneys usually retain water when you eat salt. But in pregnancy, your kidneys retain water even when sodium levels go down, because they are primed to divert fluid and sodium to the foetus.

For that very reason, says Shirley,“ pregnant women are not usually advised to reduce their salt intake”. Don’t drink less water either – it won’t make a difference to your kidneys’ water retention habits.

“Rather go for a swim,” advises Shirley. “The cold water will help contract your skin and help with that waterlogged feeling.” Loose clothes, cool weather, putting your feet up and exercise are better than coffee, as caffeine only acts as a diuretic when you drink large amounts of it (a no-no during pregnancy anyway).

Some foods help maintain healthy kidney function. As potassium can be lost in urine, load up on replacements such as bananas, beetroot or potatoes. Citrus fruits are natural diuretics, as are apples, cucumber, celery, watercress, peppermint and parsley (which also is a natural antiseptic for the urinary tract). Dandelion leaf tea can also help eliminate excess fluid.

If this doesn't work:

Instead of eating them, wrap cool cabbage leaves around your ankles to draw out moisture. This tip is best known for soothing engorged breasts while breastfeeding, but it works just as well for oedema (rentention). 

High blood pressure

Your dietary answer here is two fold: less salt, more potassium (similar to the advice for treating water retention, as oedema and hypertension, another name for high blood pressure, often go hand in hand). Your omega-3 fatty acids are important because they help relax blood vessels, as does vitamin C, so add fish and citrus to your diet.

But – wahey! What’s this? Magnesium is also a blood vessel-relaxer, and it’s found in... chocolate. Have a few pieces a day, you know, just to be safe. (“But nuts and whole grains are good sources of magnesium too,” cautions Shirley.)

If this doesn't work: 

The signs of pre-ecplampsia (or toxaemia) are high blodd pressure, water retention and protein in the urine. It's a dangerous condition, so check it out immediately if you have symptoms. 

Low blood pressure

Most pregnant women actually have lower blood pressure than usual. Your heart is working hard to pump a lot more fluid through your body, and so the pressure drops. The remedy: eat more! Low blood sugar can make you feel dizzy or faint so keep snacking throughout the day to counteract hypoglycaemia.

When you’re pregnant, your body depletes many of your nutrients to give to the baby. If you have anaemia, this means you are short of red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs, which can also cause that light headedness or dizziness associated with low blood pressure.

It’s often caused by an iron deficiency, so you can fill up on chicken livers, spinach, broccoli, beans, apricots and pumpkin. “Red meat also a good source of iron, while plant iron is not that well absorbed,” says Shirley. “Try to have vitamin C-rich food with iron sources to increase its absorption.”

If this doesn't work:

Chat to your doctor about a blood test for anaemia and taking an iron supplement. Lie down on your left side to sleep or rest so that the blood flow to your heart and brain is maximised.

Spots and blotches

The hormone rush of pregnancy gives your face that lovely pregnancy glow, but the extra oils can also leave you as pimply as a teen girl before her Matric dance, especially during early pregnancy. You can wash your face with a gentle cleanser that won’t strip all the oil off (which just leads to more oil production), but you can eat carrots too! Vitamin A keeps your skin healthy and it’s found in carrots, milk, fish and eggs.

If you’re prone to varicose veins as your body takes more and more strain with the extra blood volume, eat an orange because a high dose of vitamin C can help keep veins elastic. But if you’re dealing with linea nigra or the mask of pregnancy on your belly and face, all you can do is wait for your pregnancy to end and your skin to go back to normal over a few months.

If this doesn't work:

You will just have to live with short-term bad skin, because you cannot take vitamin A supplements or any acne products. Too much vitamin A has been linked to birth defects, and it's the reason the skin medicine Roaccutane is highly contra-indicated during pregnancy. 


The tiredness of pregnancy is a special kind of tired. It can be overwhelming to the point that you couldn’t keep your eyes open even if Brad Pitt were in your bedroom past 8.30pm. It’s very common– remember, your body’s construction job, building another human, is massive. Still, “excessive tiredness in pregnancy can be a sign of anaemia,” says Busisiwe. “It’s no surprise the advice is similar to that for women suffering from low blood pressure, because they are often experienced together.”

So eat your iron-rich foods, such as your liver, leafy green vegetables, and nuts and legumes – which are also high in fibre and good for constipation, as Busisiwe reminds us.

A few dried apricots may just be the best, though. “Dried fruit is higher in iron,” says Busi, “because the drying process removes water but retains the iron.”

If this doesn't work:

"Don't revert to caffeine for wakefulness," says Busisiwe. "It's not good for you during pregnancy." Rather sleep... while you can!


Some women quit coffee when they find out they’re pregnant– caffeine-deprivation headaches are one theory for why many pregnant women experience headaches. Doctors are unsure why some women’s migraines disappear in pregnancy while others suffer from more severe tension headaches than before. You can’t take any stronger medication than paracetamol (and even then you want to watch your dosage carefully), so dietary changes are a good idea for trying to limit headaches.

“Avoid caffeine and alcohol and drink plenty of water,” advises Busisiwe. While no foods improve or cure headaches, some are known to trigger them. Try to avoid artificial sweeteners, preservatives (especially nitrites and MSG) and other triggers such as chocolate, cheese and pickled foods.

If this doesn't work:

"It's worth checking your blood pressure if you are getting unusual headaches," says Busisiwe. "They can indicate high blood pressure which can be a sign of pre-eclampsia and which needs to be treated."

Coughs and sniffles 

Pregnancy affects your immune system (as well as just about every other process in your body) so you are more prone to colds and flu. Plus, you’re more congested because of the extra mucus produced when you‘re a baby factory. And guess what– sinus congestion can also add to those headaches discussed above. What to do?

It seems intuitive to avoid creamy and oily foods such as dairy and fat, as the yallow your body to make mucus. As your body produces more mucus when it is fighting off infection, load up on fish full of omega oils because they have anti-inflammatory properties.

If this doesn't work:

A daily probiotic (especially if you’re avoiding yoghurt) is great for regulating the mucus production in the gut. Probiotics are healthy bacteria which your body needs, especially in an environment where the “bad” bacteria are threatening to take over. Lastly, get your flu injection; it may be the prevention you need.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
What are your thoughts on the possibility of having permanent Stage 2 or 3 load shedding?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
I'll take that over constant schedule changes
13% - 498 votes
Why are we normalising Eskom’s mess?
72% - 2739 votes
I've already found alternative ways of powering my home/business
15% - 553 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.