Heartburn bothers millions of people every year, but for many women the burning and indigestion doesn’t strike until pregnancy. For women who have already struggled with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), pregnancy is often marked by increased discomfort from the already problematic symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux.
Unfortunately, pregnancy is a time when treatments like reflux surgery aren’t always an option. Still, even during pregnancy your GERD surgeon can help you develop strategies to reduce the experience of heartburn and improve your health.
Why So Much Heartburn during Pregnancy?
There are a few reasons why so many women experience severe heartburn while pregnant. The first is often the most obvious: excess weight.
A growing child means a growing uterus, which crowds out the stomach and adds pressure to the organ. During this time the waistline generally is growing too, adding further weight and pressure to the internal organs, namely the stomach, esophagus and lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Unfortunately, this pressure and constant exposure to stomach acid during pregnancy can lead some women to develop permanent damage to the esophagus and LES, which means that even after the baby is born, the frequent heartburn might not go away.
Other reasons associated with the development of heartburn during pregnancy include dietary changes and hormone fluctuations. Pregnancy hormones are recognized to relax the LES, which permits digestive juices to travel freely into the esophagus. Most women start experiencing heartburn during their second trimester of pregnancy.
Treating Heartburn during Pregnancy
Treatment options for heartburn are limited during pregnancy, but your GERD surgeon can still help you develop strong strategies to reduce heartburn.
Here are a few lifestyle changes that can help treat your heartburn during pregnancy:
- Resist eating spicy and overly fatty foods
- Chew food thoroughly and eat slowly
- Wear loose fitting clothing
- Eat at least two hours prior to lying down for bed
- Sleep with your head elevated
- Try walking briefly after a large meal
After following months of lifestyle changes and physician-approved home remedies, many women are able to safely undergo reflux surgery once their child is born to correct any permanent damage to the esophagus or LES that may have developed during the pregnancy.
Your GERD surgeon will provide you with some helpful strategies to reduce heartburn as much as possible. Here are a few suggestions you may discuss with your doctor:
- Eating habits: Controlling your diet is difficult while pregnant, but eating right is essential for the health of you and your child. Do your best to refrain from cravings and have healthy, heartburn-friendly foods at hand to snack on.
- Over the counter medications: Do not take any over the counter medications without the supervision of your GERD surgeon and obstetrician while you are pregnant. Certain over-the-counter medications could be harmful to your child’s development. Your physician will give you detailed instructions on what medications can potentially ease your heartburn.
For more advice about coping with GERD while pregnant contact your heartburn specialist.