Heartburn During Pregnancy: Symptoms And Treatments
In this post, we will discuss Heartburn during pregnancy, its causes, medications, lifestyle changes, when to see a physician, and more.
If you are pregnant and get chest pain and acidity after a meal, then it is probably heartburn. This condition is common in the first and third trimesters. Acid Reflux or GERD may affect females once the uterus begins to expand. It may even happen when the stomach shifts away from its normal position due to foetus growth.
Why Do You Get Heartburn During Pregnancy?
When you eat food, it travels down a tube between the mouth and stomach. This is the esophagus. The tube runs in the lower esophageal (LES). It is a muscular valve and goes into the stomach. It is a regulator between the stomach and esophagus. Whenever you have food, the tube opens to let it pass.
Also, it stops the stomach from throwing back the acids up. This time, LES closes down. In case of acid reflux or heartburn, this tube relaxes. It is unable to stop the stomach acid from going up into the esophagus. This is the reason why a pregnant woman may experience burning and pain in the chest.
After a person conceives, several hormonal changes happen in the body. These can cause the esophagus and LES muscles to relax more than necessary. Also, it occurs more frequently than normal. This is why more acid may go up the tube. It is more frequent when the woman has a large meal or is lying down.
For instance, if you are pregnant, then the foetus also grows in the first and second trimesters. This results in the uterus expanding to adjust this growth. So, the stomach handles a lot of exertion. This is another reason why stomach acids may more frequently push up into the esophagus.
Acid reflux happens in people with or without pregnancy. But it is more common when the foetus is already growing in the body. After a few weeks of unprotected intercourse, you find any signs of heartburn, such as nausea, missed periods. Then it is time to take a pregnancy test.
Causes of Acid Reflux During Pregnancy
Why does pregnancy increase the occurrence of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)? It is because, in the first trimester, the esophagus muscles push the food into the stomach slowly compared to other times. Also, it takes longer for your stomach to digest the food and empty. The body thus receives more time for the foetus to absorb nutrients.
However, this can also cause acid reflux. In the third trimester of pregnancy, heartburn may happen more often. This is because the foetus growth pushes the stomach from its original position. But not every pregnant female needs to experience this symptom.
As everyone’s body is different, the intensity and signs of discomfort will also vary. Also, the cause for heartburn depends on factors such as diet, habits, physiology, and health condition after conceiving. If the symptoms worsen, then you must consult your doctor immediately.
Here are some of the common causes of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease during pregnancy:
The slow digestion process triggers because of high progesterone. The stomach has the food contents for a longer time. This is the reason for the excessive formation of gas. Thus, pregnant females may encounter heartburn usually after taking meals. It is better to thus have frequent and smaller meals.
Larger meals may slow down digestion even more. So, the acid reflux may increase at a greater intensity. You can stick to fresh fruits, vegetables, non-acidic food items, and lean meat to reduce the troubles of acidity.
The pregnancy hormone – progesterone is responsible for providing the womb with nutrition. It also helps the baby to develop in the uterus. But this hormone is also the cause of acid reflux. This chemical relaxes muscles. Its presence loosens the lower esophageal valve muscles.
Whenever you feed, the muscles open to let the food pass into the stomach. Then it usually shuts tightly. But progesterone production in pregnancy causes the muscles to de-tense. So, the LES does not close off properly. Also, its muscles do not remain that tight. So, they do not restrict the acid from going up from your abdomen.
The more the acid backflows from your stomach to the esophagus, the risk of GERD increases. In worse cases, the pushing up of acid can even affect the throat. So, you may encounter a lot of burning sensations in the stomach, chest, and mouth in severe situations.
Growth of Foetus
In the later stages of pregnancy, the uterus expands more to accommodate the growth of the baby. Thus, the uterus competes with other organs to get more space. The pressure that the uterus creates on expansion, affects the stomach. This leads to the spilling out of stomach acids.
It happens usually when your stomach has food in it. The stomach will squeeze for space as the uterus grows. Thus, heartburn is possible as the trimester advances. You can take medications to reduce these side effects. Have a word with your doctor about it.
Medicines to Treat GERD in Pregnancy
To cope with acid reflux symptoms, you can take over-the-counter antacids. The ones with magnesium or calcium magnesium are good to go with. Some of the options are Maalox, Rolaids, and Tums. In the last stage of pregnancy, however, you may have to avoid magnesium-based medicines.
This mineral can disrupt labor contractions. Your doctor may restrict the use of antacids containing aluminum, sodium, aluminum carbonate, and aluminum hydroxide. These can cause fluid to build up in tissues. Or, it may also result in constipation. Do not take pills consisting of aspirin.
It is best to consult your healthcare provider for a suitable medication for GERD. Some alternative treatments and lifestyle changes can also ease the problem.
Also Read: Foods to avoid and include in your diet for GERD.
Lifestyle Tips to Stop Heartburn During Pregnancy
One method may not work for all. So, for different individuals, different methods may work. Lifestyle habits have a huge role in bringing positive changes during pregnancy. These can also resolve acid reflux. It is also relatively safer than medicines for babies and mothers. Here are some of the lifestyle tips:
- Maintain a balanced body weight
- Do not take food and beverages that can increase the possibility of acid reflux
- Some of the foods to avoid are fatty items, acidic and spicy foods, chocolate
- Also, restrict intake of too many tomato-based items, citrus fruits, caffeine
- Do not drink too many carbonated beverages
- Chew sugarless gum after food. It neutralizes acid throw-up into the esophagus
- Take your meals a few hours before going to bed
- Chew your food properly and eat slowly
- This will cause the food to break down adequately reducing the risk of heartburn
- Stay upright for an hour or two after a meal
- You can also go for a short walk after food to improve digestion
- Drink a glass of milk or eat yogurt to beat down the signs of GERD
- Stick to frequent and smaller meals
- Do not drink water during meals
- You can however drink water in between the intake of food
- You may try relaxation techniques, yoga, acupuncture, progressive muscle relaxation
- Even guided imagery can work for a few women
- Avoid smoking cigarettes or use of recreational products
- Sleep with wedges or pillows to keep your upper body elevated
- Do not wear tight-fitting clothes, stick to comfortable clothing
- Sleep on the left side to position the stomach higher from your esophagus
When to Consult a Doctor?
Acid reflux may interfere with sleep at night. But you may return to normalcy after the acid backflow eases. Even if you take antacids, the moment the effect wears off, the symptoms may return. Some of the signs are coughing, black stools, difficulty swallowing, weight loss, etc.
If these symptoms worsen, then you must seek your doctor’s help. Your physician may provide a diagnosis for GERD. This will require immediate treatment for the complications. It is necessary to do so to protect the esophagus from damage. Your healthcare provider may prescribe H2 blockers.
These medicines prohibit acid production. Another option is a proton pump inhibitor. It is for individuals who do not respond much to other forms of treatments during pregnancy for heartburn. If you experience side effects from these medicines, then reveal the same to your doctor. He/she will suggest another one that is safe for you and the baby.
Heartburn During Pregnancy: Final Words
GERD or Acid Reflux can occur at any stage of pregnancy. Not all women suffer from it. But this may affect a few females. The signs and symptoms may vary from a person to another. For some, it can limit heartburn after food. But for others, it can extend for several hours and disturb sleep.
It can also interfere with daily schedules. The burning sensation in the stomach, throat, and chest can get serious. It has the potential to burn a hole in the food pipe or throat, leading to severe health issues. So, if the symptoms seem bothersome, do not delay meeting your doctor. It will help counterattack the problem with the right treatment.
August 7, 2021 Sam Bell