Acid reflux during pregnancy

Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
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An introduction to acid reflux during pregnancy

Symptoms of acid reflux during pregnancy aren’t uncommon, but this doesn’t mean you need to suffer in silence! It’s important to understand why your symptoms have developed and, more importantly, how you can begin to manage them over the next 9 months.

What causes acid reflux during pregnancy?

During pregnancy your body has to adapt to a whole number of changes - the emerging foetus being the biggest one! As your baby grows larger, it pushes into the surrounding areas and things can become slightly more cramped! Your stomach doesn’t get off lightly and it can end up becoming really quite squashed – as a result, associated symptoms can arise.

The physical force of the expanding uterus gradually pushing further up into the upper abdomen, will naturally result in the contents of your stomach being shunted further upwards than would normally be the case. Next, as your stomach is compressed, the pressure inside the tummy can actually change which can affect the functions of the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS), (an important band of muscle which controls the passage of food from the oesophagus into your stomach). Therefore, both of these effects can make heartburn a more likely occurrence.

Another theory is that as you near the final stages of pregnancy, hormones responsible for helping to prepare and relax the muscles in and around the tummy ahead of the birth, may also have some effect on the functions of the LOS. As we know this is also a bad of muscle, however if this relaxes when we don’t want it to, the acidic contents of your stomach can be pushed back into your oesophagus, and acid reflux may become apparent.

What can I try at home to help manage my symptoms?

There are some simple steps you can take at home to help manage your symptoms of acid reflux during pregnancy:

  • Be conscious of your eating habits. Now more than ever is the time to be conscious of how you eat – for a whole number of reasons! Firstly, you want to get the most out of the food you eat in terms of the nutrients, but also, you want to suffer as little as possible in terms of those uncomfortable symptoms. Concentrate on chewing your food at least 20 times per mouthful, which will help you digest your food more efficiently and will also mean you are less likely to overeat as you take more time over meals. Next, sit up straight to give your stomach as much room as possible, considering the limited room it already has! And finally, watch what you eat. You might find particular foods act as triggers, so watch out for particularly spicy or fatty foods, for example, that may well be exacerbating your symptoms. Also, beware that larger portions may no longer go down so well, so you might finding eating smaller meals works best for you too
  • Rejig your sleeping routines. Nowadays maternity pillows are quite often a must-have for mums-to-be in order to achieve optimal comfort, but sleeping to support your stomach as well as your baby bump may also be a new priority. Ensure your head is elevated to work with gravity as much as possible to help prevent reflux, and avoid eating in the few hours before bedtime to ensure your tum has had some time to start emptying its contents
  • Try out relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques (always double check they are suitable) may come in handy as you near the birth of your baby, but actually, they could prove useful at an earlier stage too. Practice breathing techniques or consider looking into relevant antenatal classes in your local area

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Can any natural remedies help me?

Although your options are often slightly more limited during pregnancy, there still may be some natural remedies which can help during this time:

  • Herbal teas. Soothing herbal teas may be an option for you, such as those containing chamomile or peppermint
  • Ginger. Ginger is often a popular choice for many pregnant ladies. Not only can it help with heartburn in many cases but it can also help quell nausea too – another common gestational issue! 

Always be sure to run any new remedies you’d like to try past your doctor or midwife first.

How can my doctor help?

If home and natural remedies aren’t doing the trick, it might be time to visit your doctor or pharmacist, as they can prescribe appropriate antacid medication which may help to neutralise stomach acid in the short term.

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Did you know?

Acid reflux at night is an all-too-common problem, contributing to an estimated 7% of sleepless nights, which can lead to fatigue, increased anxiety or concentration lapses the following day.

The physical symptoms our emotions cause

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