Though not every pregnant woman experiences it, acid reflux is a common enough occurrence during pregnancy that old wives tales have developed 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 stories aside, this condition during pregnancy can be extremely uncomfortable. People who suffer from it often say it is the worst side effect. If you find yourself struggling with acid reflux during pregnancy, know that you’re not alone and there are things you can do to help ease your discomfort.
The Causes of Acid Reflux During Pregnancy
The body experiences an increase in the levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy, which is thought to help relax the muscles of the uterus and allow for expansion as the baby grows. However, these same hormones can also contribute to relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a valve between the stomach and esophagus. When the LES is relaxed, it can allow stomach acids to rise into the esophagus, causing symptoms of acid reflux.
The diaphragm is the group of muscles below the lungs. The diaphragm is the part of the body that separates the chest from the abdomen during pregnancy. This pressure is then carried down to the stomach and esophagus, which irritates the lining and causes discomfort. This is especially common for women later on in their pregnancy when they are carrying a larger baby.
There are two main biological processes that occur during pregnancy which make acid reflux more likely.
Steps You Can Take To Control Your Acid Reflux
Though it may be tempting to seek medical intervention and get a prescription to end your discomfort, it’s not advisable to do so during pregnancy. You want to minimize your medication intake during pregnancy as the baby is most vulnerable during these months. Even over-the-counter antacids can be harmful if abused during pregnancy, so before taking them be sure to check with your doctor.
There are some basic steps you can take to minimize your risk of developing acid reflux. Fortunately, these steps are relatively simple and easy to follow.
First, stretching and yoga can help make you more flexible, which in turn reduces some of the pressure on the esophageal sphincter. Additionally, consider wearing loose clothing which will be more comfortable as your body grows.
Second, the food you eat can have a big effect on how often you have acid reflux episodes, and how serious they are. While spicy foods have traditionally been thought to be a trigger for acid reflux, recent research indicates that this may not necessarily be the case. However, it’s still a good idea to limit your intake of spicy foods to see if it makes a difference for you. It’s important to get rid of or reduce your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, dairy products, potatoes and onions, citrus fruits, and chocolate while you’re pregnant. These foods are the most common reflux triggers and can affect everyone differently, so it’s best to be safe and avoid them.
Third, your eating habits also play a role in heartburn pressure. 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, focus on maintaining good posture. This will take pressure off the esophageal sphincter and help to keep stomach contents from rising into the esophagus. You might also want to look for an incline pillow to sleep with 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 speak with your doctor before trying any natural remedies, but if you are looking for an antacid, some believe that ginger may help absorb stomach acids. Indian gooseberry has been shown to significantly reduce acid secretions and Chamomile, Gentian, and orange peel extract are some other possible options.