Understanding acid reflux in pregnancy
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows back into the oesophagus (food pipe), causing a burning sensation in the chest or throat.3-5 It is common during pregnancy – estimated to occur in 30–50% of pregnancies, with the incidence up to 80% in some groups.6,7 The hormonal and physical changes occurring during pregnancy are believed to increase the risk of acid reflux occurring, hence the symptoms tend to become worse and more frequent as pregnancy progresses.1,2,7
When does acid reflux start in pregnancy?
As mentioned previously, the symptoms of acid reflux change over the course of pregnancy.7,8 During the first trimester, symptoms are likely due to the hormonal changes and are less common than in the later stages.7,8 As the pregnancy progresses, the growing uterus may exert pressure that forces the contents of the stomach upwards into the oesophagus, thus increasing the frequency of symptoms.7,8 Symptoms of acid reflux usually ease after giving birth but may come back in following pregnancies.9
Identifying acid reflux symptoms during pregnancy
An acid taste in the mouth and regurgitation are the most frequent symptoms of acid reflux during pregnancy, with almost 41% of pregnant women experiencing these symptoms at least once a week in the third trimester.7 While this symptom might share some similarities with morning sickness, acid reflux is often accompanied with a burning sensation in the chest or throat.3-5 This symptom, also known as heartburn, affects 13% of pregnant women at least once a week in the first trimester, 22% during the second and 35% during the third.7 Understanding the difference between acid reflux symptoms and morning sickness can help you to identify acid reflux and take appropriate steps to find relief.
What causes reflux in pregnancy?
The physical and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy can increase the likelihood of reflux occurrence.1,2 For example, hormones released in pregnancy can cause the sphincter that keeps the contents of stomach from moving back up the oesophagus to relax, making it easier for the contents to enter the oesophagus.1,2,7 Additionally, the growing size of the uterus as the pregnancy progresses is suggested to increase the pressure on the stomach, pushing its contents upwards and into the oesophagus.7
Finding relief from acid reflux during pregnancy
When dealing with acid reflux during pregnancy, diet and lifestyle modifications should be the first step.3 Avoiding trigger foods such as those that are fatty or spicy, eating smaller meals and limiting intake of carbonated and caffeinated beverages may help to relieve mild symptoms.3,4,8 In addition, lifestyle modifications such as avoiding overeating or eating close to bedtime and avoiding lying down immediately after eating may be helpful too.3,4,8 If these changes are insufficient to relieve symptoms, antacids and alginates can be suitable options for managing occasional discomfort.3,10 Always consult your healthcare provider before introducing any new medication, even over-the-counter ones, while pregnant.
How Gaviscon can help
As you navigate the realm of acid reflux during pregnancy, remember that relief is within reach. Gaviscon Extra Strength liquid, designed to alleviate heartburn and indigestion, is suitable for use during pregnancy.10 It contains an alginate, which forms a barrier over the stomach contents to help relieve the discomfort of acid reflux.11 Understanding the causes of acid reflux, its symptoms, and ways to manage it can help you to navigate this phase of your pregnancy with greater comfort.
- Richter J. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2005;22(9):749–757.
- Goral V. M J Gast. 2018;3(1):011.
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux in adults [published August 2022]. In: Therapeutic Guidelines. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; accessed August 2023. https://www.tg.org.au.
- MacFarlane B. Integr Pharm Res Pract. 2018;7:41–752.
- Heading RC, et al. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2016;28(4):455–462.
- Ali RAR, Egan LG. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2007;21(5):793–806.
- Malfertheiner SF, et al. BMC Gastroenterol. 2012;12:131.
- World Gastroenterology Organisation. WGO Handbook on Heartburn: A global perspective, 2015.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Reflux (heartburn). Updated 17 May 2019. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/pregnancy-care-guidelines/part-i-common-conditions-during-pregnancy/reflux-heartburn (accessed August 2023).
- Strugala V, et al. ISRN Obstet Gynecol. 2012;2012:481870.
- Rohof WO, et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013;11(x):1585–1591.
This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.
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