Acid reflux is common during pregnancy. Making lifestyle changes and taking medication can help relieve it.
Acid reflux: a common problem during pregnancy
As its name implies, gastroesophageal reflux, commonly called acid reflux, is a problem that occurs when the acid contained in the stomach flows back into the oesophagus. The oesophagus is a tube that allows ingested food to pass from the mouth to the stomach.
Gastroesophageal reflux affects more than a third of pregnant women. Therefore, it is very common, but usually minor. It isn’t uncommon for symptoms to worsen as pregnancy progresses. Fortunately, they usually resolve themselves after childbirth.
On rare occasions, a woman may experience more serious symptoms that can lead to certain complications (i.e., weight loss, difficulty eating, insomnia, etc.). If a pregnant woman has acid reflux, she is more likely to experience it again with subsequent pregnancies.
The signs and symptoms of acid reflux
Acid reflux can lead to various manifestations, such as the following:
- burning sensation in the throat
- nausea with or without vomiting
- difficulty swallowing
- hoarse voice
- sore throat, and
Acid indigestion occurs more frequently after meals or during the night.
The causes of acid reflux in pregnant women
The occurrence of acid reflux during pregnancy can be caused by various factors. The most significant factor is an excess of certain female hormones (particularly progesterone) produced during pregnancy. This hormonal surplus relaxes the sphincter that separates the oesophagus from the stomach, making pregnant women more prone to acid reflux.
Additionally, it has been suggested that slower digestion during pregnancy and increased pressure by the uterus and the baby on the stomach, contribute to the onset of the problem. However, this remains to be proven.
Managing acid reflux in pregnant women depends first and foremost on non-medicinal measures. Making simple lifestyle changes can really contribute to reducing symptoms of acid reflux. Here is some advice to this end.
- Do not lie down for three hours after having eaten.
- Raise the head of the bed by 10 to 15 cm.
- If you are used to sleeping on your side, make sure to sleep on your left side.
- Avoid drinking large amounts of fluids before bedtime.
- Abstain from drinking alcohol.
- Don’t smoke and avoid second hand smoke.
- Avoid drugs that are irritating to the stomach (i.e., anti-inflammatory drugs).
- Eat several small meals a day, eat slowly and chew your food well.
- Avoid irritating foods that are likely to exacerbate symptoms (coffee/tea, soft drinks, mint, chocolate, tomato sauce, citrus juice, fatty foods, sugar or spices, etc.).
- Wear loose-fitting clothing; tight clothes can cause additional pressure on the abdomen.
- Try to reduce stress. Take some time to rest and to do relaxing activities (i.e., bath, soft music, meditation, deep breathing exercises, etc.).
If lifestyle changes are insufficient to provide relief, you can consider medication. There are several over-the-counter drugs intended to relieve acid reflux that have proven effective and safe for pregnant women.
However, this is not the case for all medications! Therefore, it is essential to always consult your pharmacist or doctor before taking medication without a prescription. This recommendation also stands for natural health products and supplements.
You should see a doctor if:
- you experience serious or persistent chest or abdominal pain
- your symptoms persist or worsen despite taking over-the-counter medication recommended by your pharmacist
- you experience disabling or alarming symptoms (i.e., difficulty swallowing, sensation or fear of choking, fever, headaches, significant or persistent vomiting, violent coughing, etc.)
- you are unable to eat normally
- you lose weight
- you notice abnormal signs: signs of dehydration, black stools, blood or clumps in vomit, sputum or stool, etc.
- you have a chronic medical condition (i.e., asthma, history of a stomach ulcer, eating disorder, etc.)
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about gastroesophageal reflux during pregnancy and its treatments.