pregnant woman's belly in green dress standing with partner holding a green apple for changes in digestion during pregnancy

Whether you are just starting your pregnancy journey or are further along, you probably have noticed many changes. These changes include how nutrients are absorbed in the body to supply energy for you and your baby. Many factors, such as your genetics and lifestyle, impact how nutrients are broken down and used. These changes occur so that your baby develops properly. Therefore, an awareness of the digestion changes during pregnancy can help you to better understand your pregnancy journey.


Why Does Digestion Change During Pregnancy?

When you are pregnant, your body is trying to meet your nutrient needs, your baby’s nutrient needs, and also prepare for birth and lactation (1). Because of this, changes must happen in your body to fulfill these demands. When you become pregnant, a new organ called the placenta forms. The placenta supplies oxygen and nutrients to your baby. It also removes waste products from the baby’s blood. Because of the placenta, more hormones are secreted, causing a change in how nutrients are broken down and absorbed (1). Therefore, to meet the nutritional demands of you and your baby, there are two ways your body adjusts: more nutrients are absorbed in your digestive tract, or your kidneys excrete less nutrients (1).


Each nutrient is affected differently. Some nutrients are absorbed by different areas of your body and may build up in various areas (1). For example, fat is more likely to collect in the breasts, hips, and thighs. Because of this change, your body is prepared for giving birth and lactation. Other nutrients are simply metabolized faster (1). It is important that you consume enough nutrients for you and your baby because of this change in nutrient absorption. You can learn more about important nutrients for pregnancy here.


What Impacts Nutrition Absorption?

Factors like your nutrition before becoming pregnant, lifestyle, metabolism, and genetics of the fetus all play a role in how nutrients are absorbed during pregnancy (1). There are continuous changes to nutrient absorption throughout pregnancy. Nutrient absorption is influenced by:

  • Hormone signaling
  • Your baby’s nutrient demands
  • The supply of nutrients in your body
  • External environment – your behaviour can cause changes inside your body


However, there is a limit to nutrient absorption even in pregnancy. Therefore, it is still important not to exceed recommended levels of certain nutrients in pregnancy. Otherwise, developmental complications for your baby could occur. If you are concerned about your intake of specific nutrients, please book a free call with one of our dietitians.


Absorption of Macronutrients During Pregnancy

Macronutrients include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Carbohydrates are an important energy source for you and your baby. The product of carbohydrate metabolism is glucose. This is the preferred fuel source for growth and development (2). This is because it is a nutrient that easily crosses the placenta. For this reason, your body increases its carbohydrate breakdown to increase glucose availability (3). However, due to these changes in carbohydrate metabolism and absorption, pregnant women have an increased risk of gestational diabetes. When a pregnant woman has chronic high blood glucose levels, she is diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This condition can be easily controlled during pregnancy, and all pregnant women are tested for it.


Protein absorption changes gradually throughout pregnancy. Protein is essential in the formation of tissue for both you and your baby. Your growing baby requires the highest amount of protein during the last trimester of pregnancy (1). Changes in protein breakdown and absorption are influenced by hormonal changes.


In the first two trimesters, an increased amount of fat is metabolized and stored (1). This increase in your fat stores occurs before your baby’s energy needs are at their peak (1). Near the end of pregnancy, the placenta will signal for more fat uptake to meet your baby’s needs (4). Increased fat absorption is an important change to prepare your body for labour and lactation.


How to Increase Nutrient Absorption During Pregnancy

While you are unable to physically control most of the absorption changes during pregnancy, you can take action to get the highest amount of nutrients from your food (5).

You can preserve nutrients in fruits and vegetables by:

  • Not overcooking vegetables. Try steaming, baking, or sautéing.
  • Using little water and a low temperature when cooking.
  • Buying local produce if possible (it doesn’t travel as far and is fresher).
  • Freeze vegetables and fruit to retain nutrients and eat year round.

You can absorb more nutrients by:

  • Adding fat like oil. This helps absorb vitamin A in red-, orange-, and yellow-coloured vegetables. It also helps absorb vitamin K in dark-green leafy vegetables.
  • Adding vitamin C. Foods high in vitamin C help your body absorb iron found in plant foods and folate in dark green leafy vegetables.


Final Notes from The Nest

As you can see, many changes occur within your body that you may have not even known were happening. Digestion changes during pregnancy are necessary and normal. Having an awareness of these changes helps you to understand the development and growth of your baby. If you’d like more guidance on increasing the nutrients you absorb, feel free to book a free call with a Registered Dietitian at The Nest.

Article Written by Julie Van Osch

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  1. King JC. Physiology of pregnancy and nutrient metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;71(5):1218S-1225S.
  2. Tzanetakou IP, Mikhailidis DP, Perrea DN. Nutrition during pregnancy and the effect of carbohydrates on the offspring’s metabolic profile: In search of the “perfect maternal diet”. Open Cardiovasc Med J. 2011;5:103-109.
  3. Butte NF. Carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in pregnancy: normal compared with gestational diabetes mellitus. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;71(5):1256S-1261S.
  4. Zeng Z, Liu F, Li S. Metabolic adaptations in pregnancy: A review. Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;70:59-65.
  5. Unlock Food [Internet]. Canada: Dietitians of Canada; c2022 [updated 2019 Feb 14; cited 2022 Feb 20]. How to get the most nutrients from the foods you eat; [about 4 screens]. Available from: