Acid Reflux During Pregnancy – What Causes it and What to Do About It
Acid reflux during pregnancy isn’t a universal experience among pregnant women, but it happens often enough that old wives tales have grown up around it. For example, they used to say if a pregnant woman had acid reflux the baby would be born with a full head of hair. Wives tales aside, this condition during pregnancy can be incredibly uncomfortable and is often sited as one of the worst side effects.
The Causes of Acid Reflux During Pregnancy
The body naturally increases its levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy. One of the reasons for the increase of these two hormones is to help the body to relax the muscles of the uterus so that it can expand as the baby grows. Unfortunately, these hormones also tend to relax the muscles in the lower esophageal sphincter, which serves as a value between the stomach and the esophagus. When this sphincter is relaxed it leaves an opening for stomach acids to rise into the esophagus, hence the experience of acid reflux.
To compound the situation, even without the increased hormones as a factor, as the baby grows and the uterus expands it places pressure on the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle group that separates the chest from the abdomen. In turn, this pressure is passed to the stomach and the esophagus. The added pressure on the esophageal sphincter creates a malfunction, allowing stomach contents to enter into the esophagus and irritate the lining. Women often don’t experience this until late in their pregnancy.
So you have two natural processes occurring during pregnancy that tend to encourage the onset of acid reflux.
Steps You Can Take To Control Your Acid Reflux
While the quick and easy solution to putting an end to your acid reflux is a visit to the doctor for a prescription, this isn’t advisable during pregnancy. You always want to keep medications to a minimum during these delicate months when the baby is most vulnerable. Even over the counter antacids can be abused during pregnancy, so before you start taking them make sure you check with your doctor.
Fortunately, there are some basic steps you can take to minimize the occurrence of acid reflux.
First, some basic exercises such as yoga and stretching can help keep your body limber and more adaptable to the changes it’s going through. This helps remove some of the pressure on the esophageal sphincter that naturally occurs during pregnancy. Try wearing loose clothing as well.
Second, the foods you eat can dramatically influence the regularity and severity of your episodes. You’ll want to limit your intake of spicy foods, even though recent research appears to indicate that these foods may not be a direct factor when it comes to acid reflux. More important, you’ll want to eliminate or dramatically limit your consumption of dairy products, alcohol (which you shouldn’t be drinking during pregnancy anyway), caffeine, fried foods, potatoes and onions, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and chocolate. While these foods don’t universally affect everyone the same, they are the most common reflux triggers.
Third, your eating habits also play a role. By eating smaller meals more often throughout the day, you remove the potential of added pressure on the sphincter. Overeating is an invitation for the stomach contents to rise back into the esophagus. Chew your food thoroughly. Allow at least three hours between your last meal and when you go to bed. Don’t deny your cravings, they serve an important purpose during pregnancy, but always keep your helpings small.
Fourth, work at maintaining good posture. Again, this is about keeping pressure off the esophageal sphincter. You might also want to look around for an incline pillow for sleeping at night. This will keep your head and upper body elevated, making it more difficult for stomach contents to rise into the esophagus.
Fifth, always consult with your doctor first, but you might want to try a natural antacid. Ginger, for instance, is believed to be effective at absorbing stomach acids. Indian gooseberry has also been shown to significantly reduce acid secretions. Chamomile, gentian, and orange peel extract are some others you might want to investigate.