We’ve all heard that pregnancy is a beautiful thing, and yes, while it’s impossible to deny that there’s something amazing about carrying a human life inside of you, if you’ve ever actually been pregnant you’ll know that there are a lot of things about pregnancy that aren’t very beautiful. Feeling like a beached whale, for example, or morning sickness, swollen feet, an aching back, the actual pains of labor, etc. The list goes on and on. One of the most uncomfortable and inconvenient things that plagues women during pregnancy is constant heartburn and acid reflux.
It’s one of the things no one tells you about when you first get pregnant. You picture yourself surrounded by that pregnancy glow, allowed for 9 months to eat anything and everything your heart desires under the guise of cravings. What you aren’t prepared for are the hours you’ll spend in bed each night regretting those cravings and tossing back antacids as you battle yet another round of heartburn.
Acid reflux is one of the least talked about issues pregnant women will face, and unfortunately one of the most common. Over half of pregnant women will experience acid reflux while pregnant (most of them very frequently), even if they never experienced it pre-pregnancy. It’s fairly unpleasant, and it can manifest itself in a number of ways. You may experience your reflux as heartburn, a burning sensation in your throat or upper chest that keeps you up at night. It might also show up in other ways such as nausea, burping, or regurgitation.
Regardless of how you feel your reflux, it’s impossible to deny that it sucks. For women who have never suffered from acid reflux or heartburn before, it can be even more frustrating. All the time we get the question, “why is this happening now when it never has before?” The answer? It’s just the beauty of pregnancy. You know those same hormones responsible for changing your skin and causing that gorgeous pregnancy glow? Unfortunately they’re also responsible for your reflux.
Women who are pregnant experience reflux because progesterone, one of the main hormones increased during pregnancy, slows down the digestive system. The hormone changes during pregnancy can also cause the muscles in your esophagus to relax more frequently, which results in acids seeping back up and causing heartburn. You’ll notice that you’re more likely to experience heartburn while lying down or after a large meal.
Although acid reflux is unpleasant, the good news is that it doesn’t affect your baby in any way, so there’s no need to worry about whether your reflux is harming your child. It can cause a number of issues for the mother, though. You may find yourself nauseous, unable to sleep because of the pain of heartburn, turned off by certain foods, or just generally uncomfortable because of your reflux. If you’re noticing that the acid reflux you’re experiencing during pregnancy is unmanageable, there are a few things you can do to keep it at bay.
- Try to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day rather than three large ones. Remember that your digestive system is slowed down, so you don’t want to hit it with a ton of food at once.
- Stay away from greasy or spicy foods, as these tend to exacerbate reflux.
- Avoid drinking milk or trying to soothe yourself with peppermint tea. Although it might sound like a good idea, milk increases your stomach acid, and peppermint tea actually dilates your esophageal sphincter and makes it easier for stomach acid to back up into your throat.
- Consider using an over the counter antacid to help alleviate the symptoms of your reflux. Just make sure to avoid the ones with magnesium and talk to your doctor about which option might be best for you.
There’s no quick fix for pregnancy reflux, but using some of these tips may help you keep your reflux symptoms at bay. Acid reflux during pregnancy is, unfortunately, incredibly common, so it’s likely that it’s something you’ll have to deal with at some point. If you’re experiencing heartburn that wakes you up at night, isn’t helped by antacids or creates other symptoms like weight loss, coughing, etc., then you should talk to your doctor. It’s possible that you may have a more serious problem caused by something other than pregnancy. Either way, it never hurts to be sure!
Fortunately for most women, after your newborn graces the world and your hormones begin to normalize, many mothers will return to their reflux-free life a few months after delivering. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for all mothers. In some cases the rapid weight gain from pregnancy can cause permanent changes such as a hiatal hernia. In these instances, patients may find that they have to remain on a daily medication or, if significant enough, may need to consider surgery.
Women such as these who are planning on having another pregnancy at some point often fear what their reflux will be like during their next pregnancy. Don’t let this influence your decision to have another child. There are surgical solutions that can be considered prior to getting pregnant again that should be discussed with a reflux specialist.