Bloated as Pregnant? 7 Main Causes & Treatments
Our content is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice by your doctor. Use for informational purposes only.
Are you tired of feeling like you’re carrying around an inflated balloon in your stomach?
Bloating isn’t just uncomfortable; it can significantly impact your daily life and confidence.
Whether it’s resembling a pregnant belly after a meal or the constant discomfort of gas, understanding the roots of bloating is the first step to relief.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the common causes of bloating and offer practical, easy-to-implement solutions to help you deflate the discomfort and reclaim your comfort!
First, lets define things:
- Bloating is the feeling of an inflated balloon inside your belly (abdomen).
- Distension occurs when gas causes a visible swelling in your abdomen. If you’re a female, severe bloating can make you look as pregnant.
- Flatulence: is defined as the excess passage of flatus (farting).
Severe bloating and distension (making you look pregnant) are often caused by excess gas inside your digestive tract. Eating gassy food, excessive fermentation of foods due to food intolerances or SIBO, excess air swallowing, and abnormal sensitivity to gas are the commonest causes.
1. Food-related causes of bloating.
Food is probably the most common cause of bloating and distension. However, you don’t need to have a gut disease or food intolerance to get bloating from food.
Eating excess gas-producing foods can make you bloated and look like you’re pregnant.
Also, some diseases that are related to food can make you bloated. The most common are food intolerances and allergies.
The main mechanisms of food-related bloating are:
- Excess eating of gas-producing foods.
- Food intolerances and allergies (such as lactose intolerance).
- FODMAP intolerance (as in patients with IBS.
A. Excess eating of gas-producing foods.
Eating too many foods that are known to cause excess gas can make you bloated.
It is the most benign and the most common cause of bloating that can make you look pregnant.
Eating excess amounts of such food can cause bloating even in an average individual without any disease. In addition, the more you eat, the more bloating and distension (pregnant look) you get.
The list of food that commonly causes gas and bloating include (reference):
|1. Milk and dairy products||– milk,|
– ice cream,
– and sometimes, cheese and yogurt.
|2. Vegetables||– Broccoli,|
– Brussel sprouts,
– and rutabaga.
|3. Fruits||– Prunes,|
|4. Whole grains||-wheat,|
– wheat germ,
– bran/bran cereal
|5. Legumes||– Beans,|
– baked beans,
– lima beans
|6. Fats||Fried and high-fat foods.|
|7. Drinks||– Carbonated beverages,|
– carbonated medications
|8. Others||– chewing gum,|
– artificial sweeteners
B. Food intolerances and allergies.
Food intolerance means you have trouble digesting or absorption certain types of food or food component.
As a result, the undigested and/or unabsorbed foods remain longer inside your intestines.
Bacteria then consume the stagnant food and produce extra gas (even with average amounts of food).
The more you eat from the offending foods, the more gas and burping you get.
Food intolerance is widespread, affecting up to 20% of people (reference).
Food intolerance is different from food allergy. Food allergy is defined as an allergic reaction to food (mediated by your immune system).
The differences between food intolerance and allergy are explained in the table below.
|Food intolerance||Food allergy|
|Affects 15-20% of the population||Affects nearly 2-5% of adults|
|Difficulty digesting certain types of food (not immune-mediated allergy).||An immune-mediated reaction to certain foods or food components.|
|Causes “recurrent acute” or “chronic” attacks of diarrhea and bloating.||Usually causes acute attacks related to the ingestion of offending food.|
|Intestinal symptoms: diarrhea, extensive gas, bloating, distension (looking pregnant), and abdominal pain||Intestinal symptoms are the same|
|No extraintestinal symptoms||Extraintestinal symptoms like rashes, urticaria, swollen lips or face, or severe life-threatening allergic reactions.|
|The severity of your symptoms is proportional to the amount you eat from the offending food.||Even trace amounts of the offending food can produce severe symptoms.|
Common offending foods:
Common offending foods: (examples)
C. FODMAP intolerance.
FODMAPs are a group of foods that contain short-chain sugars that are rapidly fermentable. FODMAP is considered a type of food intolerance.
FODMAP is discussed separately here because it is linked to a prevalent disease called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Eating FODMAPs can lead to excess bloating and distension. In addition, FODMAP intolerance produces symptoms of IBS, which include:
- Recurrent abdominal pain (at least one day per week for several months.
- Abdominal pain comes in periods of flare-ups and remissions.
- Abdominal pain is
- Change in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation).
- Changes in stool form (harder or looser stool).
- IBS can be diarrhea-predominant, constipation-predominant, or mixed.
- Bloating and distension. IBS is one of the most common causes of distension that can make you look pregnant.
The complete list of FODMAP foods include:
Characteristics and sources of common FODMAPs
|Sugar type||Foods containing|
|O||Oligosaccharides||Fructans, galactooligosaccharides||Wheat, barley, rye, onion, leek, the white part of spring onion, garlic, shallots, artichokes, beetroot, fennel, peas, chicory, pistachio, cashews, legumes, lentils, and chickpeas|
|D||Disaccharides||Lactose||Milk, custard, ice cream, and yogurt|
|M||Monosaccharides||“Free fructose” (fructose in excess of glucose)||Apples, pears, mangoes, cherries, watermelon, asparagus, sugar snap peas, honey, high-fructose corn syrup|
|P||Polyols||Sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and xylitol||Apples, pears, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, watermelon, mushrooms, cauliflower, artificially sweetened chewing gum, and confectionery|
You will notice similarities between the offending foods in food intolerance, gassy foods, and FODMAP foods.
We currently don’t fully understand the mechanism of IBS and food intolerance. However, These foods are evidenced to cause bloating and distension (looking as pregnant).
D. Excessive Air swelling:
- Eating too fast.
- Talking while eating.
- Aerophagia (due to anxiety and psychological disturbances.).
- Carbonated beverages.
Practical Tips to reduce food-related bloating:
- Limit intake of known gas-producing foods (e.g., beans, certain vegetables, carbonated drinks).
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly to reduce air swallowing.
- Consider a food diary to identify and avoid trigger foods.
- Trial an elimination diet under guidance to identify food intolerances.
2. Functional Gastrointestinal diseases that cause bloating.
Your gut is one of the most obscure organs to doctors and medical scientists. We currently don’t fully understand the exact causes of many gastrointestinal disorders.
We have a large subset of gut diseases classified as (functional diseases). Functional gut diseases cause symptoms without definite abnormalities in medical examination or investigations.
Many of these functional diseases cause bloating and distension. And they are common and underdiagnosed.
However, visible distension that makes you look like a pregnant woman involves diseases that cause increased gas inside your gut.
Examples of functional gastrointestinal disorders that can lead to bloating and distension:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Functional dyspepsia.
- Chronic functional constipation.
- Functional bloating.
IBS, functional dyspepsia, and chronic functional constipation are more common among females. The three diseases are common causes of bloating and distension (looking pregnant). Read more in the links provided above.
Tips to improve bloating:
- Regular exercise to improve gut motility.
- Stress reduction techniques (e.g., meditation, yoga).
- Probiotics to balance gut flora.
- IBS-specific treatments like low FODMAP diet for IBS sufferers.
3. Malabsorption Syndromes.
Malabsorption syndrome is the failure of your small intestine to absorb one or more nutrients.
Malabsorption syndrome’s possible causes include:
- Celiac disease: Intestinal inflammation and damage from eating gluten (found in wheat, rye, and barley).
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): overgrowth of the normal bacteria inside your intestine causing malabsorption of nutrients, diarrhea, and bloating.
- Chronic pancreatitis (pancreatic exocrine deficiency).
- Other causes include Crohn’s disease, bile acid diarrhea, radiation to the intestine, surgery, or prolonged antibiotic use.
Malabsorption of nutrients leads to extreme bloating and distension (looking like pregnant).
The symptoms include:
- Intestinal symptoms: such as abdominal pain, distension, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or passing flatus. Yellow and foul-smelling diarrhea is a symptom of fat malabsorption (chronic pancreatitis).
- Symptoms of nutrient deficiency: such as anemia, weight loss, unhealthy skin, low blood sugar, muscle wasting, edema, hair loss, dry skin, dry hair, and others.
Tips to reduce bloating with malabsorption syndromes:
- Follow specific diets (e.g., gluten-free for Celiac disease).
- Supplement missing nutrients (e.g., vitamins, minerals).
- Consult healthcare providers for tailored treatment plans.
- Antibiotics for SIBO after proper diagnosis.
4. Abnormal motility of your digestive tract.
Several conditions and diseases can affect the way your digestive system contractions (motility).
For example, when your stomach moves less frequently, it causes food to stay longer and causes bloating and distension. This condition is called gastroparesis.
The below list of diseases can cause severe bloating and distension to the degree of looking pregnant:
- Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma).
- Diabetes Mellitus (causes gastroparesis, constipation, and other motility disorders).
- Acute dynamic ileus.
- Acute or chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction.
Tips to improve bloating:
- Smaller, more frequent meals to reduce digestive burden.
- Avoid high-fat and high-fiber foods if you have gastroparesis.
- Medications to improve gut motility (prescribed by a doctor).
- Manage underlying conditions like diabetes.
5. Intestinal infections that lead to bloating (especially SIBO and Giardia infection).
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is an abnormal increase in the overall bacteria inside your small intestine.
SIBO results from certain diseases such as Crohn’s disease, diabetes, antibiotic use, or specific surgeries.
SIBO leads to a complex of symptoms:
- Abdominal pain.
- Bloating and distension (Pregnant-looking abdomen).
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss, malnutrition.
Tips to improve bloating:
- Antibiotics for bacterial overgrowth or infections.
- Adequate hydration to support recovery.
- Avoid foods that exacerbate symptoms during active infection.
Giardia is a protozoan that can cause acute or chronic intestine infection. Chronic giardiasis can lead to fat malabsorption, leading to bloating, distension (pregnant-like abdomen), and fatty diarrhea. Learn more.
6. Physiological causes (pregnancy and obesity).
Sometimes, bloating and distended abdomen can be a result of conditions that aren’t a disease.
The two most common causes of bloating and distension are pregnancy and obesity.
Pregnancy leads to abdominal swelling, but not in the early stages. Early pregnancy can lead to bloating (but not with visible swelling).
Revise your list of medications, you can find the answer to bloating and distension in the medicines you take.
- Overuse of antacids.
- Diarrhea medicines such as Immodium, Kaopectate, Lomotil, and others.
- Opioid analgesics (causes constipation, bloating, and distension).
Tips to improve bloating:
- Consult with a healthcare provider to identify medication-induced bloating.
- Alternative medications or dosages might be considered.
- Probiotics or fiber supplements to counteract constipation-inducing medications.
The below causes distension and bloating. They’re more likely to causes abdominal swellings that look like pregnancy.
However, they’re overall less frequent or rare. The below disease often manifests with severe symptoms; they cause bloating on the side.
- Intestinal obstruction.
- Malignancy: stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, or any other intra-abdominal cancers.
- Ascites: often due to liver cirrhosis, malignancy spreads into the peritoneum or kidney disease.
- Enlargement of organs inside your abdomen, such as massive splenomegaly or hepatomegaly (enlarged liver).
- Previous operations such as gastric bypass and other bariatric procedures.
Remember, while bloating can be an annoying intruder in your life, it doesn’t have to be a permanent guest.
By understanding the underlying causes – from food intolerances to functional gastrointestinal disorders – and applying these practical tips, you can significantly reduce bloating and improve your overall digestive health.
Don’t let bloating dictate your life’s rhythm; take control, make informed choices, and step towards a more comfortable, bloat-free future. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice, and here’s to a happier, healthier gut!