For a good number of women, pregnancy is the first time they experience heartburn or acid reflux.
After a long day of feeling tired and maybe nauseous, they lie down and it hits them—a strange burning sensation in their chest and a sour taste in their mouth.
Just another one of the joys of pregnancy. Like not being able to tie your shoes or seeing your belly button pop out.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid—or even stomach content—flows back into your esophagus. In many people, it can be triggered by carrying around excess weight (which increases pressure on the abdomen) or smoking (which relaxes your sphincter, allowing acid to more easily flow into the esophagus).
GERD can also occur after overeating or by eating a food that triggers acid reflux. Common culprits include fried foods, spicy foods, coffee and alcohol. Why is it never the celery or kale we choke down that’s causing problems?
Unfortunately for some women, GERD and pregnancy go hand in hand. For pregnant women, it’s not hard to figure out what’s triggering the condition. Your baby is growing and crowding your abdominal cavity, which literally pushes stomach acid up into your esophagus. (This won’t be the last time your baby is a pain in the neck.)
But it’s not just that working against you. The placenta is producing progesterone, which relaxes the muscles of the uterus. Unfortunately, it may also relax the valve separating your stomach from your esophagus.
Once you give birth, GERD usually goes away. But there’s nothing you can do to get rid of it while you’re pregnant. The best you can do is to manage your symptoms.
To manage GERD and pregnancy, you do that pretty much the same way that non-pregnant GERD-sufferers do:
• Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or consume a lot of caffeine—all things you shouldn’t be doing while pregnant anyway.
• Dress comfortably. It may be tempting to squeeze into your old clothes for as long as possible, but cinching your waist only puts more pressure on your abdomen.
• Eat small meals and don’t eat for two to three hours before you go to bed.
• Try sleeping with your upper body propped up a bit. You can do this by using a wedge pillow or by placing blocks or bricks under the front legs of your bed.
• Chew gum after eating. Gum promotes saliva, which help neutralize stomach acid.
• Stay away from trigger foods. This is where things get tricky, because different foods cause problems for different people. For many people, spicy and fried foods are the worst. But tomatoes, citrus fruits, mint and chocolate can also cause acid reflux.
• Avoid extra weight gain beyond what is recommended. The more weight a woman gains in pregnancy, the higher her risk of experiencing acid reflux.
GERD is incredibly common. About 40 percent of Americans experience GERD on a monthly basis and about 30 to 50 percent of pregnant women complain of symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Lifestyle modifications are usually enough to provide relief during pregnancy. For more information about GERD, learn more with our guide Your Guide to GERD.