If you are expecting a baby, you can almost expect to have acid reflux. It is estimated that as many as 8 out of 10 women experience acid reflux, some for the first time in their life, when they are pregnant. Multiple factors cause acid reflux in pregnancy, including hormonal changes and weight gain. These reflux symptoms are usually the most troublesome during the last trimester of pregnancy.
When a women is pregnant, an increase in hormones, especially progesterone, causes a decrease in pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter muscle (LES). This muscle helps keep the food and acid in the stomach, and when the pressure is decreased, it no longer works as well.
Acid reflux symptoms are usually the same for pregnant women as for the general public, and symptoms usually become worse for the mother-to-be after meals and when she sleeps. Complications of reflux in pregnancy are rare, since the duration is usually short. The reflux usually gets better soon after the baby is delivered.
Treatment for acid reflux in pregnancy may still be required, especially if the symptoms are impacting the mother’s ability to eat or sleep. If the acid reflux is uncomplicated, but none-the-less annoying, healthcare professionals will most likely suggest a “step-up” approach to medical treatment . The “steps” may begin with lifestyle modifications, such as eating smaller, more frequent meals, having the mother lie on her left side when resting, and having her raise the head of her bed a few inches. If these suggestions do not provide adequate relief, the healthcare provider may move up to medications such as antacids or to H2 receptors. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) have not been widely used in pregnancy, therefore safety data on this type of drug during pregnancy is more limited, and physicians may be less likely to prescribe this class of drugs for pregnant women.
As with any medical intervention during pregnancy, the safety of the mother and fetus must always be considered. If you are pregnant and are experiencing acid reflux symptoms, you should contact a medical specialist who is familiar with reflux during pregnancy such as a gastroenterologist or obstetrician.
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D., is a freelance health writer and the C.E.O. of Tracy’s Smoothie Place. She serves as the expert on a weekly radio show about health and wellness and is the author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux and multiple articles about the cost of caregiving. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @drinksmoothies.