Dealing with Acid Reflux During Pregnancy
Virtually everyone has experienced the burning discomfort of heartburn as a result of stomach contents refluxing back into the esophagus. Studies show that over 60 million Americans experience acid reflux at least once a month.
When acid reflux occurs two or three times a week, it is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is a chronic condition.
Actually, “the reflux of the stomach’s liquid contents into the esophagus occurs in most normal individuals. One study found that reflux occurs as frequently in normal individuals as in patients with GERD. In patients with GERD, however, the refluxed liquid contains acid more often, and the acid remains in the esophagus longer. It has also been found that liquid refluxes to a higher level in the esophagus in patients with GERD than normal individuals.” (Medicinenet.com)
It is estimated about half of all pregnant women experience acid reflux during their pregnancy, usually in the second and third trimesters.
What is acid reflux and why does it happen during pregnancy?
Heartburn is caused by stomach acid that splashes back up into the esophagus. This usually happens in pregnant women because progesterone levels relax the lower esophageal sphincter. To make matters worse, progesterone slows down digestion, and the growing baby puts pressure on the abdomen.
How to cope with acid reflux during pregnancy?
It may not be possible to completely eliminate acid reflux, but there are measures and simple lifestyle changes you can make to minimize the symptoms or their effects.
1.) Elevate the head of the bed or sleep propped up – Gravity is your friend in this instance. Studies have shown that people who sleep with their heads elevated experience fewer and shorter reflux episodes.
2.) Lie on your left side – Studies have shown an increase in the number of episodes in those patients who slept on their back or on their right side. “Several studies have found that sleeping on the right side aggravates heartburn.” (NYT) While researchers are still trying to figure out precisely why sleeping on the left side helps, there are two theories. One is that sleeping on the right side relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter. The second is that sleeping on the left side “keeps the junction between stomach and esophagus above the level of gastric acid.” (NYT) Since lying on your left side also increases blood flow between you and your baby, you should be doing it already.
3.) Avoid food and drinks that are known to increase stomach acid: garlic, onions, carbonated beverages, alcohol, caffeinated beverages, chocolate, citrus fruit and juices, tomatoes, mustard, vinegar, processed meats, mints, and spicy or highly seasoned fried or fatty foods.
4.) Make sure you leave two to three hours between eating and going to bed.
5.) Avoid big meals or portion sizes. Instead, have several smaller meals throughout the day. Allow sufficient time for eating, don’t eat on the run, and chew thoroughly. This will make it easier for your stomach to process the food.
6.) Minimize how much you drink during meals. Drinking during meals distends your stomach.
7.) Chewing gum after a meal increases saliva production. Saliva contains bicarbonate which neutralizes stomach acid remaining in the esophagus. (Medicinenet) “A clear reduction in acidic esophageal reflux has been documented in patients who chewed sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after a meal.” (HealthCentral.com)
8.) Keep antacids nearby. Liquid antacids have the added advantage of soothing the esophagus as they go down. Make sure the antacid you choose does not contain aluminum or aspirin and is low in sodium. Antacids are not absorbed into the bloodstream. H2 blockers such as Zantac, Pepcid, and Tagamet also work well and prevent the stomach from producing too much acid. Studies so far show that, while these products are absorbed into the bloodstream, there have been no negative effects on the fetus.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for Empowher.com.
8 Ways to Treat Acid Reflux During Pregnancy. Eisner, Todd. HealthCentral.com. Web. July 11, 2012.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD, Acid Reflux, Heartburn). Marks, Jay W. Medicinenet.com. Web. July 11, 2012.
Heartburn during pregnancy. Babycenter.com. Web. July 11, 2012.
The Claim: Lying on Your Left Side Eases Heartburn. O’Connor, Anahad. NY Times. Web. July 11, 2012.
Acid Reflux Symptoms. WebMD. Web. July 11, 2012.
Yoga to Alleviate Heartburn During Pregnancy. Easom, Hillary.
How to Control Acid Reflux. Video.
Acid reflux major component of recurring lung infections to asthma.