Painful Gas Causes and Prevention During Pregnancy

Gas and bloating are common discomforts of pregnancy. These digestion-related symptoms, which can range from mildly uncomfortable to downright painful, are caused by a variety of factors, including hormones and diet. The uptick in bloating and gas (including farting and belching) can come and go but can be an annoyance throughout pregnancy.

Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms and causes of painful gas and bloating during pregnancy and after childbirth, as well as some tips on how to find relief and when to call the doctor.

Painful gas during pregnancy
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

What It Is

Everyone gets and passes gas. Your body makes gas as the natural bacteria in your stomach and intestines break down the food that you eat during digestion. You also bring air into your body by swallowing it when you eat, drink, laugh, breathe, and talk.

Sometimes gas can lead to bloating, which is when your stomach swells and feels full after eating or from the buildup of gas. This bloated feeling can be mild or quite unpleasant. It can also make your abdomen temporarily increase in size.

Causes

When you’re pregnant, you may notice that you’re passing gas more than usual and that it's painful. An increase in gas and bloating during pregnancy can be triggered by a variety of causes, including changing hormone levels and the foods you eat.

Progesterone

During pregnancy, there is more of the hormone progesterone in your body. Extra progesterone is a key reason why you might experience more gas and bloating when you are pregnant.

One of the things progesterone does in your body is to relax the smooth muscle of the gastrointestinal tract. When these muscles are relaxed, it can cause food to move more slowly through your digestive system.

As digestion slows, more gas builds up in your intestines. The gas helps your body make optimal use of the food you eat, but it also makes for more burping, passing wind, and bloating.

It may be a little uncomfortable, but the slow movement of food through your intestines allows your body to absorb more nutrients for you and your growing baby.

What You Eat

The foods you eat and beverages you drink also affect gas production. Foods that are known to increase gas include spicy foods, fried foods, processed foods, greasy foods, dairy, whole grains, carbonated drinks, and many fruits and vegetables.

Many gas-producing foods are very healthy, such as beans, broccoli, and bran. You can start by eliminating the less nutritious gas-producing foods (such as onion rings, potato chips, and sodas) before reducing your intake of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains.

However, keep in mind that changing your diet too quickly can also cause gas. If you want to make some adjustments, take it slow. If you suddenly begin eating a diet that's high in fiber and full of healthy fruits and vegetables, your body will not have time to adjust. It's likely that you will actually produce more gas for a while.

Moving to a healthier diet is highly recommended for anyone but especially if you are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant. Just try to do it gradually to avoid the symptoms of gas that can come along with the changes.

Common Gas-Causing Foods

If your symptoms are causing you discomfort, consider limiting these foods to reduce bloating and gas:

  • Apples
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Lentils
  • Onions
  • Prunes
  • Raisins

How You Eat

Gas can also build up if you eat large meals, consume a lot of gassy foods, eat too quickly, or do not chew your food well. If you swallow hastily, it usually means you are gulping in excess air as you eat, which creates more gas in your belly. Talking while you are chewing also contributes to added gas.

An Expanding Midsection

As your uterus grows, it puts pressure on your intestines. The squeezing of your digestive system can slow it down. The constriction can also make it harder to control the release of gas, which can mean you pass wind unexpectedly or more often. 

Constipation

Having trouble moving your bowels, also known as constipation, can also cause bloating and pain. The stool sitting in your intestines makes it more difficult for the gas to pass through and exit the body.

Your Prenatal Vitamin

Prenatal vitamins help ensure that you and your baby are getting all (and enough of) the vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy pregnancy. That said, some vitamins and minerals (especially iron supplements) contribute to constipation, which in turn can cause gas.

Stress and Anxiety

When you're nervous, you may breathe more quickly and take in more air, which can lead to gas. Anxiety can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

Lactose Intolerance

If you haven’t poured yourself a glass of milk in years, but decide to start drinking a lot of milk now that you’re pregnant, you may find you don’t tolerate it the same way you did as a kid. The same goes for ice cream and other dairy products.

If you are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy, gas, bloating, pain, and diarrhea are common symptoms. 

Symptoms

A buildup of excess gas can cause a range of symptoms, including:

Your body releases the gas from your body (and relieves your symptoms) through:

  • Flatulence (farting or passing wind)
  • Belching (burping)

Effects on Baby

A fetus in the womb does not feel the gas pain or pressure that you do. Your little one is safe and comfortable floating in the protective fluid of the amniotic sac. The movement and sounds that gas makes as it moves through your intestines might even be pleasant and soothing for your baby.

Gas and other gastric discomforts of pregnancy (such as heartburn and constipation) can be uncomfortable for you, but do not harm your baby.

Treatment and Prevention

Gas is a normal function of the human body. You cannot completely prevent it (nor should you). However, there are a few things you can do to minimize the problem and reduce discomfort.

Lifestyle Changes

Drink plenty of water. Water and other healthy fluids keep your body hydrated and help prevent constipation. Cut down on drinks with carbonation and sugar, such as soda. While they might provide hydration, they can also increase gas.

Use a cup or a glass. When you drink from a bottle or through a straw, you swallow more air as you drink.

Drink more slowly. Try to take your time and enjoy your beverage at a slower pace. When you gulp it down, you take in extra air with each sip. 

Cut back on gas-producing foods. Some foods tend to make more gas, such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and beans. Sugary, fried, spicy, or fatty foods can also cause gas. It's a good idea to avoid foods that made your pre-pregnancy body gassy, as they will likely cause even more gas and bloating while you are pregnant.

Try peppermint or ginger tea. Both peppermint and ginger are known to help ease digestive upsets and stomach discomfort.

Maintain a healthy diet. Many healthy foods can cause gas. You may want to try to avoid some, but you don’t want to stop including all of these nutritious foods in your diet. You need to make sure you get the nutrition you need during your pregnancy. While it's fine to try to eat a little less of the things that trigger gas, be sure you’re still focusing on well-balanced meals—even if it means you have to deal with a little extra flatulence. 

Aim to prevent excess gas without eliminating the important nutrients that you and your baby need.

Change your eating habits. To help with digestion, try to eat smaller meals more often throughout the day instead of having three large meals. Take your time, eat slowly, and follow your mother’s advice: Don’t talk with your mouth full! Make sure to chew your food well, too. That way, there's less to break down once it reaches your stomach.

Get some exercise. Physical activity during pregnancy is healthy for your digestion and helps your body release gas, which alleviates bloating. Exercise can also help prevent constipation, reduce bloating, and keep gas moving through your body (and out). A short walk or light stretching can help relieve gas. and many yoga poses are also safe and effective.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) both recommend that getting a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day (such as brisk walking or swimming) while you are pregnant.

Add fiber slowly. Fiber pulls water into the intestines which makes it easier for stool to move through. Having regular bowel movements is important for preventing constipation, bloating, pain, and gas. That said, you want to add fiber to your diet gradually—if you increase your intake too quickly, it can actually trigger more gas.

Foods that are high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. If you’re dealing with constipation and having trouble getting enough fiber in your diet, ask your doctor about taking a supplement. 

Maintain a healthy weight. Try to stay within the guidelines for healthy weight gain during your pregnancy. If you gain more weight than is needed for the health of your pregnancy, it can put pressure on your digestive tract, causing gas to build up and get trapped. 

Dress comfortably. Wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t put pressure on your abdomen. Tight pants or belts around your waist can press on your intestines and increase your discomfort.

Skip the chewing gum. Chewing gum can cause you to swallow air. Plus, some of the artificial sweeteners in chewing gum can also cause gas.

Find healthy ways to deal with stress. Feeling upset or worried can cause digestion to slow down and gas to build up. Deep breaths, meditation, and other relaxation techniques can help you relieve anxiety and stress. If you are finding it hard to cope with stress or anxiety during your pregnancy (or any time) talk to your doctor. They can refer you to a therapist or counselor who can help.

Don’t smoke. When you inhale cigarette smoke, you also draw in air. Not only can smoking contribute to gas, but it's also not good for the health of your pregnancy. If you want to quit or have tried to quit but need help, talk to your doctor.

Medications to Try

There are many over-the-counter (OTC) products used to treat gas. While there are some that are safe to use during pregnancy, there are some you should avoid.

It’s always best to talk to your doctor before starting a new medicine, but especially when you are pregnant. Even OTC medicines that you might think are safe to take might not be OK to use when you are pregnant.

There are multiple pregnancy-safe OTC medicines that treat gas, including:

  • Anti-gas medication. Gas medicine that has simethicone as its active ingredient is generally considered safe to take during pregnancy. Popular brands include: Gas-X, Maalox Anti-Gas, Mylanta Gas Minis, or Phazyme
  • Beano. Beano (alpha-galactosidase) is an enzyme you take before you eat to aid digestion and help prevent gas before it starts. Beano has not been shown to be harmful during pregnancy, but you should ask your doctor before you use it. 
  • Lactase. Lactase is an enzyme that helps your body digest dairy. If you are lactose intolerant or you suffer from gas and bloating after drinking milk or eating dairy products, ask your doctor if a product like Lactaid could help.
  • Antacids. Some antacids, such as Tums and Rolaids, are safe to use during pregnancy. These brands also make a version of their products with added simethicone for gas. Before you try them, know that the side effects of some antacids can include constipation, diarrhea, or swelling.

Some antacids are not safe to use while you’re pregnant. If you are dealing with digestive symptoms ask your doctor before trying antacids.

Medications to Avoid

Before you take any over-the-counter medicine, herbs, or home remedies ask your doctor if it is safe to take them while you are pregnant. As you are looking at your options, be sure to read the labels carefully to be sure you have the right product.

There are some medicines that you should not use to treat gas and bloating during pregnancy.

The following medications are not safe to use if you are pregnant:

  • Alka-Seltzer  
  • Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate)
  • Kaopectate (bismuth subsalicylate)
  • Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • Products containing aspirin
  • Castor oil
  • Enemas
  • Laxatives
  • Activated charcoal

When to Call the Doctor

Gas can be painful, but it’s not the only thing that can cause abdominal pain during pregnancy. Other conditions that can be mistaken for gas include:

If you aren’t sure whether or not gas is causing your pain and discomfort, call your doctor. It’s better to get checked and find out the pain is just gas than to ignore a potentially serious (even life-threatening) medical condition.

Call your doctor or go to the emergency room if: 

  • The pain is getting worse or not going away
  • You have severe nausea and vomiting
  • You notice blood in your stool when you move your bowels
  • You think you may be having contractions
  • Your constipation is severe and not improving

Gas vs. Labor

Toward the end of pregnancy, you might be uncertain whether gas pain is actually contractions. One easy way to be sure is to time your pain and discomfort.

Contractions come and go at regular intervals, with pain-free breaks in between. They will also get progressively stronger and closer together.

Gas pains, on the other hand, are irregular and can stick around for hours, rather than the few minutes contractions last.

Contractions feel similar to intense menstrual cramps, whereas gas and bloating is a more overall abdominal pain (sometimes punctuated by a stabbing sensation that comes and goes).

Gas After Delivery

Childbirth can affect and stress the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, so you might continue to experience painful gas after your child is born.

Whether you have a vaginal delivery or a C-section, these treatments can help relieve gas pain after you give birth:

  • Change positions often
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Get up and walk around as soon as possible
  • Take the stool softener the doctor orders for you
  • Talk to your doctor about taking Motrin (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) to relieve pain
  • Try to keep stress levels low
  • Use ice to reduce swelling in the perineal area and a local numbing spray to relieve perineal pain

Vaginal Birth

The delivery process stretches out your muscles and causes swelling and soreness (and sometimes tearing) in the perineal area. When you factor in hemorrhoids and a possible tear or episiotomy, it’s no wonder that many women do not even want to attempt to move their bowels after giving birth. However, holding in stool can lead to constipation, which worsens gas.

It’s OK if it takes a few days to get bowels going again, but do not go any longer than that without talking to your doctor.

Constipation and gas can develop when the bowels are sluggish from hormonal changes and the pain medications sometimes given during and post-delivery.

Fear also plays a role: the first postpartum bowel movements can be painful, but the pain can get worse the longer you don’t go. 

Try to stay calm. You aren’t going to break open your stitches and having a bowel movement may not be as painful as you fear. Chances are, you'll feel quite a bit better (or at least less bloated) after you have moved your bowels.

Cesarean Section

A cesarean section (C-section) is abdominal surgery. Any surgery slows down the bowels. Constipation and trapped gas after surgical procedures is common and can be quite painful.

The gas may last for a few days after surgery. The longer you go without having a bowel movement, the more uncomfortable you will be. Let your surgeon or doctor know if you still have gas pain after a few days and have not been able to move your bowels.

A Word From Verywell

Gas is a normal part of life for everyone, although some people experience more gas than others. During pregnancy, you might notice an increase in gas and bloating because of the changes in your body (all of which is completely normal!)

Gas can be painful and a little embarrassing, but it won't complicate your pregnancy or harm your baby. While you want to do what you can to minimize, you’re not likely to get through your entire pregnancy without dealing with at least a little extra gas.

The good news is, there are many safe and effective ways to treat gas while you are pregnant as well as in the first few days after you give birth. If you have symptoms that you are not sure are gas or that you are concerned about, talk to your doctor. It's much better to find out a worrisome pain was only gas than to ignore a pain that could be a sign of a more serious health concern.

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Article Sources
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