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Eating nutritious food is necessary for a pregnant woman to have a healthy baby. But having healthy and nutritious food or anything may be the last thing on your mind if you experience heartburn and indigestion while pregnant. Indigestion during pregnancy is common but it can be a big turn off for you. You may find yourself looking at the foods you love with distastefulness.
But indigestion and pregnancy go hand-in-hand. Pregnancy brings about changes in the body’s digestive system which can lead to discomfort. The increased production of progesterone hormone during pregnancy slows down the digestive process in the early stages of pregnancy. And in the later stages, the growing size of the uterus adds to the discomfort as it presses on the internal organs. These changes become a cause of indigestion throughout pregnancy. Read on to know more about indigestion during pregnancy and how it can be tackled.
What Is Indigestion?
Indigestion (or dyspepsia), a bloated and gassy feeling that happens when the digestion process takes place slowly, is a common occurrence in pregnancy. It manifests in the form of pain or discomfort felt in the stomach or below the ribs. As mentioned above, increased production of progesterone is responsible for indigestion in early pregnancy, and the growing womb pressing on your stomach causes discomfort in later pregnancy.
Is Indigestion Common in Pregnant Women?
Indigestion in early pregnancy is quite common. Symptoms like feeling discomfort in the stomach usually worsen in the second and third trimesters. Both indigestion and heartburn are commonly experienced during all stages of pregnancy by nearly 80% of expecting mothers. The consolation is that you’re certainly not alone if you’re feeling uncomfortable.
The medical reasons for indigestion are –
- The increased production of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy. Progesterone has a relaxing effect on the sphincter muscle, which is responsible for allowing undigested food to pass through the digestive system
- The size of the growing baby, which exerts increased pressure on the stomach
Dyspepsia usually reduces after childbirth when your hormones change back to their pre-pregnancy state and the pressure of the baby on your stomach is removed.
Indigestion may start as soon as you conceive. Some women may experience a strong burning sensation of heartburn after meals, beginning just a few weeks into their pregnancy. For others, it shows up later on when the womb is expanding and there isn’t much room for food.
The symptoms of heartburn that usually occur soon after eating include:
- A sour taste in the mouth that creeps up the throat
- A feeling of burning in the chest
- Pain in the throat or neck
Causes of Indigestion
Indigestion can begin in the first trimester but usually becomes more of a problem in the third trimester. However, if you are wondering is indigestion a symptom of pregnancy, then the answer is no, it is not. Unlike morning sickness, indigestion is not an indication of pregnancy.
Indigestion includes a group of symptoms that stem from a problem in your upper gut. Your gastrointestinal tract begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. The upper gut includes the oesophagus or food pipe, stomach, and the first half of the small intestine. Various conditions in the upper gut can result in dyspepsia.
Hormones like progesterone are the leading cause of heartburn in pregnancy. They relax your muscles to allow your baby to pass through your pelvis during delivery. Unfortunately, this has the effect of relaxing all your muscles and also works on those which normally prevent acid from travelling up the oesophagus to your mouth. The stomach acid that rises causes heartburn.
In the initial weeks of pregnancy, you are more likely to have indigestion due to the following reasons:
- hormonal changes that your body undergoes due to pregnancy
- your growing womb pressing on your stomach
- the relaxing of the muscles that control movement between your stomach and oesophagus, allowing acid from the stomach to leak back up
Your risk of suffering from indigestion in pregnancy goes up if you:
- had indigestion problems before you were pregnant
- are in the last leg of pregnancy
- have a hernia
- have gastro-oesophageal reflux disease
Note: Some vitamin supplements can also cause painful bloating and gas which may get worse in the later stages of pregnancy when the growing uterus begins to push on your rectum.
Signs and Symptoms of Indigestion
Both heartburn and indigestion refer to symptoms that often occur after you eat. While indigestion is not related to stomach acid, you can experience heartburn as a symptom of indigestion. It is possible to experience indigestion at any point during your pregnancy, although your symptoms worsen during the advanced stages of pregnancy, from 27 weeks onwards. By then, your baby and womb (uterus) are bigger in size and put additional pressure on the digestive tract.
Symptoms vary from person to person with the same condition. Most mothers complain of heartburn, pain, or a sense of discomfort in the stomach or chest. This usually happens soon after meals. However, there can occasionally be a delay between having a meal and developing indigestion.
The most common symptoms of indigestion include:
- Feeling uncomfortably full during or after eating
- Stomach pain
- Regurgitation (food coming back from the stomach)
- Feeling heavy
There are several treatment options for indigestion. These include both traditional home remedies as well as medication available to reduce the frequency and severity of indigestion.
If the question of what can I take for indigestion while pregnant comes to your mind, then apart from natural remedies, there are medications that help to reduce indigestion. These include:
- An infection of pylori bacteria can cause indigestion and this needs antibiotics for relief.
- Proton pump inhibitors can lower acid production. Please note that rashes, abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches, constipation, diarrhoea, gas, nausea, or vomiting are the side effects of using this.
- H2-receptor antagonists reduce the acidity of your stomach acid.
- Anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication may reduce the discomfort caused by indigestion.
Home Remedies for Indigestion During Pregnancy
If you’re wondering what to do to relieve indigestion, there are many age-old tips that help relieve and prevent symptoms of heartburn. While some of these are not scientifically proven, many moms-to-be find them helpful. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal remedies or supplements to ascertain that they are safe for you.
- Eat a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. These provide the roughage you need to facilitate bowel movements.
- Instead of big meals, eat more frequent small meals through the day. This reduces pressure on the gut, making digestion easier.
- Take your time eating, and chew thoroughly as this aids the process of digestion.
- Avoid fatty and spicy food as they may cause acid reflux.
- Avoid lying down right after meals. It is best to let gravity do its job by coaxing food down your gut.
- Eat healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts, and whole wheat biscuits.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking tends to relax the valve between your stomach and food-pipe, thus making you more prone to indigestion.
- Almonds are rich in calcium and are known to settle the stomach, so include almonds in your diet.
- Drink warm milk with honey. It’s a comforting and soothing drink that can give you much-needed relief. However, steer clear of this remedy if you are lactose intolerant.
- Try probiotics. These contain Lactobacillus acidophilus (good bacteria) and help in maintaining the health of your digestive tract.
- Oatmeal can be eaten to soothe indigestion as it absorbs excess acid and adds bulk to the faeces.
- Peppermint tea or ginger tea soothes nausea.
- Drink cranberry juice to inhibit the growth of pylori bacteria and keep your gut healthy.
- Keeping a pillow to keep your head raised at night may help with heartburn at night by discouraging acid reflux.
- Eating yoghurt may help prevent and relieve heartburn as yoghurt is a natural probiotic.
Consult your doctor if the symptoms of indigestion and heartburn do not seem to subside even after your best efforts.
Treatments for heartburn and indigestion can be used during pregnancy after consulting the doctor. Follow the recommended dosage to experience faster relief. Make sure to understand any possible side-effects before taking any medication.
- Antacids can provide immediate relief from indigestion. They work by neutralising the acid in your stomach and curbing irritation. Various antacids are available in the pharmacy. However, some tablets might give you an upset stomach or cause complications so it is advisable to speak to a doctor before picking one.
- Sometimes, antacids are combined with alginates; this helps relieve indigestion caused by acid reflux. These work by forming a foam barrier keeping the acid away from the oesophagus. Antacids can effectively control the symptoms of indigestion during pregnancy.
- You may need to take the medication before eating food and before bed. If you are taking iron supplements, the antacids may prevent them from being absorbed, so try to have them two hours apart. If antacids do not improve your symptoms of indigestion, your general physician may change the prescription to ranitidine or omeprazole which work to suppress the acidity and are generally safe for use during pregnancy.
How to Prevent Indigestion
Pregnancy is an exciting time, but you should be prepared to deal with indigestion, morning sickness, etc., or you could try and prevent it. Here’s what you can do to try and prevent indigestion during pregnancy. Precautions which may help prevent indigestion include making the right choices in our daily life.
- Opt for a healthy diet and monitor your response to different foods.
- Improve your eating habits and identify the trigger foods that cause Indigestion. Spicy or fatty food, caffeine, alcohol, citrus fruits and juices, and even chocolate can be a trigger for some, so avoid these foods and drinks.
- Make small lifestyle changes that reduce stress and help keep you relaxed.
- Make a note of any particular food, drink or activity that seems to make indigestion worse and avoid them if possible. Some women find that drinking fruit juice, eating chocolate or bending over can be triggers of indigestion.
- Never self-medicate.
Following even one simple precaution of indigestion during pregnancy will improve your daily life.
Can Indigestion Harm the Baby?
Although indigestion is a distressing symptom of pregnancy, you can rest assured that it won’t harm your baby. The slowing down of your digestive system may, in fact, benefit your baby, as it will give your body more time to transfer nutrients to your baby through the placenta. The next time you feel that familiar pain settling in, don’t worry. Your baby will be fine. Some people believe that heartburn during pregnancy means that the baby will be born with a headful of hair. But this is a myth.
Self Help Tips to Beat Indigestion
You may not need medicines to control your symptoms of indigestion. Here are some suggestions that might help you tackle indigestion.
- Drink adequate water. You can also consume coconut water and buttermilk as they help keep your body feeling refreshed. These drinks also flush out excess stomach acids.
- Reduce your intake of caffeine or tea as they can make heartburn symptoms worse and also prevent your body from absorbing iron from your food.
- Avoid carbonated drinks and alcohol. Also avoid foods that are processed, spicy, highly seasoned, deep-fried or junk as they can aggravate indigestion.
- Avoid eating large portions of cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and asparagus as they can increase the production of gas in the stomach.
- Wear comfortable and loose clothes, and avoid any tie around your abdomen to facilitate the movement of food.
- Yoga, walking or light antenatal exercises can help to improve digestion and prevent indigestion.
- Stress and tension can also cause indigestion. Try to keep yourself relaxed.
- Bend at the knees to avoid heartburn.
When to See a Doctor
Indigestion and heartburn can be alarming, especially if you have never had these kinds of symptoms in the pre-pregnancy stage. Severe symptoms may require further investigation by a medical professional. See your doctor if:
- Swallowing food is difficult
- You’re spitting up blood
- Your heartburn returns after the effects of antacid wear off
- You are unable to sleep at night due to heartburn
- Your stools are black in colour
Staying healthy during pregnancy is important and depends a lot on your dietary choices. It’s important that you collect the right information so that you are best positioned to make informed decisions for yourself and your baby. Do try to stay positive and stress-free. Rethink your lifestyle and eating habits and actively manage your pregnancy to make it a more pleasant and enjoyable experience.