Pregnancy is a time of joy and new beginnings. It’s also a time of acid reflux, heartburn, stress, and anxiety. Many things can help alleviate these side effects and emotions. Eating the right foods, sleeping in a semi-upright position, talking to an understanding loved one about your fears, and developing a birth plan with your doctor, midwife, and/or doula, can all contribute to a sense of comfort and calm. And so can something as easy as chewing sugar-free gum. Here’s an ultimate guide on how chewing sugar-free gum can benefit you and your baby.
Benefits for Your Baby
Chewing gum with xylitol, a low-calorie sweetener that naturally appears in some fruits and vegetables and is used in many oral health products, may help lower your risk of preterm birth.
A study conducted in Malawi, the country with the highest known preterm birth rate (22%), showed a reduction in the instance of preterm birth among participants who chewed gum that contained xylitol.
The pre-term birth rate among the gum-chewing group was 13%, while the rate among the control group was 17%. Both groups were taught about oral health in general, which may have helped contribute to the reduction of pre-term births in the control group.
While a 4% difference may not seem like a lot, the health problems associated with pre-term birth are numerous, can be very serious, and can be lifelong. Any step that can be taken to reduce the chances that your baby is born prematurely should be seriously considered – especially one as easy, enjoyable, and inexpensive as chewing gum.
Chewing Gum Yourself Can Improve Your Child’s Teeth
After birth, you transfer your own oral bacteria to your child through normal interaction, which can negatively impact their oral health. While the same is true for other caregivers, you’ll likely be the person physically closest to your baby in the first year of their life.
This means you want to make sure any unhealthy bacteria are removed from your mouth before your baby’s teeth make their first appearance around the age of six months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) backs up this finding with the claim that “Children of mothers who have high levels of untreated cavities or tooth loss are more than 3 times more likely to have cavities as a child”. Chewing gum that contains xylitol makes it harder for bacteria to attach to your teeth and cause oral health issues for you and your baby.
Benefits for Pregnant Moms
Chewing gum reduces acid reflux by increasing the amount of saliva in your mouth causing you to swallow more often. This leads to a decrease in acid reflux because the acid in your throat is being cleared at a greater rate. It also helps with heartburn, a painful part of acid reflux, because saliva contains alkaline which helps neutralize the acid causing the pain.
The benefits of chewing gum on your physical comfort during pregnancy don’t stop there. If you’re one of the unlucky ones who suffers from severe morning sickness, you know the nausea can seem unbearable.
Mint, especially peppermint, gum is an easy at-home nausea remedy because the menthol it contains helps settle an uneasy stomach. Mint can even help with indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome.
Helps to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, and Increase Alertness
Pregnancy is very exciting, but it can also be very stressful. Chewing gum is not only a great way to burn nervous energy, it also reduces cortisol levels leading to stress relief and improved mood.
Additionally, chewing gum has long been thought of as a way to stay alert and ward off sleepiness. Nothing will completely alleviate the increased tiredness that comes with pregnancy – and you should be careful to ensure you’re getting enough sleep.
But if you already have a little one at home or a demanding job taking up much of your time, you know you can’t always take a quick nap when the desire strikes. Chewing gum can help you stay alert when you need to.
Your Oral Health Is at Increased Risk during Pregnancy
If your morning sickness is causing you to vomit, you already know your teeth will need more care than usual during pregnancy. What you may not know is that your risk of periodontitis is greater during pregnancy, regardless of whether or not you’re getting physically ill, because of your body’s increase in estrogen.
This increase is needed for a healthy pregnancy, but it’s not good for oral health. In fact, according to the CDC up to 75% of pregnant women may have gingivitis – which is stage 1 of periodontitis – and many are at increased risk for cavities. Even more importantly, the CDC finds that “periodontitis may lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes.” Luckily, chewing sugar-free gum has long been known to prevent gingivitis and aid in overall oral health.
Benefits If You Have a Caesarean (C-Section) Birth
If you’ve ever had a major abdominal surgery, you know that the first bowel movement afterward is painful. Since there’s no way around it and the longer it takes to happen the harder it will be (literally and figuratively), getting it out of the way as quickly as is safely possible is the best course of action.
After major surgery like a C-section, it’s expected that there’ll be a delay in your body’s return to its normal functions. Doctors believe that reintroducing food can help speed up gastrointestinal functions, but many patients cannot tolerate an immediate return to eating.
However, chewing gum can help trick your body into performing many of the functions it would perform if you were eating. Researchers call this “sham feeding.”
Reduce the Length of Your Hospital Stay
After a C-section, your lack of bowel movement can not only increase your physical discomfort but also how long you’re in the hospital. Chewing gum to speed up your body’s return to normal gastrointestinal function will help you get your new little bundle of joy home as soon as possible. For this reason, and all the ones listed above, sugar-free chewing gum is a must-have snack to pack in your hospital birth bag.
Sources: American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, LB 1: PPaX: Cluster randomized trial of xylitol chewing gum on prevention of preterm birth in Malawi, Dec 2021, PubMed, Maternal Oral Bacterial Levels Predict Early Childhood Caries Development, Mar 2014, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pregnancy and Oral Health, Mar 2022, PubMed, The effect of xylitol on dental caries and oral flora, Nov 2014, PubMed, The effect of chewing sugar-free gum on gastro-esophageal reflux, Nov 2005.