As if pregnancy isn't difficult enough, when it’s complicated by acid reflux or heartburn it can be even more unpleasant. The burning, discomfort or sinking feeling in your chest from reflux coupled with the changes of the third trimester can cause many sleepless nights. Let’s try to understand why pregnancy and reflux go hand in hand.
First are the hormonal changes that your body goes through. Many women get heartburn right from the beginning although it is more frequent near the end of the term. As your body undergoes changes it affects your whole system including digestion. Increased levels of hormones can weaken the ligaments that keep the LES tightly closed after you have eaten. The placenta produces the hormone progesterone, which relaxes the muscles of the uterus. This hormone also relaxes the LES valve at the bottom of the esophagus. If the LES relaxes at the wrong times, stomach contents reflux into the esophagus. Go to the acid reflux page for more on this.
Progesterone can also slow down the contractions of the stomach making it take longer for food to digest, this leads to reflux.
The second obvious reason is as your baby grows inside of you it puts more pressure on the internal organs. More pressure is put on your stomach. This in turn can force some of the stomach acid past the LES causing heartburn. The growing baby can also slow down elimination creating a less efficient digestive process.
The third factor is stress. Never under estimate the effect that stress has on your health. Stress is known to cause the stomach to produce more acid. Some studies are showing that stress causes the esophagus to be more susceptible to the acid that gets into it without really creating more acid, whatever the reason just know that stress does indeed result in more heartburn.
Please think twice before taking any drugs to reduce your acid reflux while pregnant. You should be following the doctor’s orders for diet and not taking drugs, smoking or drinking alcohol.
A related topic is reflux or spitting up with babies. For more on that, leave the pregnancy acid reflux page for the infant reflux page.