Pregnant Women and Acid Reflux - dummies

By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

It’s common for women to experience their first bout of acid reflux during pregnancy. In fact, 50 percent of women develop some form of acid reflux during their pregnancy. The two most common acid-reflux symptoms during pregnancy are a burning sensation in the chest or throat and nausea. Most women report that their acid reflux is worst during the second and third trimesters.

There are two primary culprits when it comes to pregnancy and acid reflux:

  • Hormones: When a woman becomes pregnant, she begins to produce more of a hormone called progesterone. Progesterone has been shown to slow the digestion process. The longer digestion occurs, the greater the chance that some stomach acid will splash into the esophagus. Some other pregnancy-related hormones have also been shown to weaken the LES, increasing the chances of a reflux flare up.

  • The baby itself: As the baby takes up more and more real estate in the uterus, it pushes harder on the stomach. This upward force can push stomach acid into the esophagus. Combine a slowed digestion process with a growing baby, and it’s easy to see why acid reflux may flare.

There are several things pregnant women can do to decrease the severity and frequency of acid reflux attacks, without harming their babies:

  • Eat five or six small meals per day instead of three large daily meals. Larger meals take longer to digest and force the stomach to expand further. This makes it more likely that you’ll experience reflux, especially with your digestion slowed by hormones.

  • Drink less with meals. Drinking too much with your meal can slow digestion, and poor digestion can contribute to acid reflux.

  • Eat slowly. Eating slowly will help you eat the right amount of food. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to realize that the stomach is full. If you wolf down your food, you’ll have eaten way too much by the time that 20-minute marker rolls around and says you’re full.

    Also, eating slowly means you chew more and are more relaxed. When you’re relaxed and chew well, you’ll digest your food better, and this will make acid reflux less likely.

  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating. In general, you should wait at least two hours after a meal before lying down. When you do lie down, prop up your upper body slightly by placing pillows underneath your shoulders and down to your hips. This will help stop stomach acid from splashing into the esophagus. Try to not just lift your chest, because “crimping” yourself in the middle increases the abdominal pressure that worsens GERD.

  • Check with your doctor about over-the-counter antacids and heartburn relievers. Some of these medications are safe to take during pregnancy. Most women find that liquid medication (which coats the esophageal lining) is the most effective remedy.

Usually pregnancy-related reflux can be diagnosed based on symptoms alone. It’s rare that a doctor will want to do invasive testing to verify an acid-reflux diagnosis for a pregnant woman.

Your acid reflux likely won’t impact your baby, so don’t believe that old wives’ tale that your baby will be born with heartburn as a result of your reflux.