Indigestion is a common complaint in pregnant women, especially later on in the pregnancy. It is often described as a burning sensation in the chest area that moves from the tummy region upward towards the throat. This can be a very scary experience and the natural tendency is to worry about the health and wellbeing of your unborn baby. There are a few reasons this occurs and there are certain things you can change to help alleviate this symptom.

What Does Indigestion During Pregnancy Feel Like?

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest or stomach area
  • Burning feeling
  • Feeling heaviness or pressure in the abdominal region
  • Burping excessively
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling like to food consumed is coming back out

Indigestion or dyspepsia–as your doctor will most likely call it–is more common in pregnant women who have passed the 27th week of pregnancy. About 80% of pregnant women experience this. Pregnancy hormones relax the muscles in the body and subsequently slow down the digestive process, making indigestion more prevalent during pregnancy.

What Causes Indigestion During Pregnancy?

The burning sensation occurs when stomach contents which are acidic, come into contact with the sensitive mucosa of the upper digestive system, like the esophagus. The acid, which is perfect for digesting food consumed, starts to breakdown and irritate the cells of the upper digestive system. Indigestion is more prevalent during pregnancy because:

  • The growing fetus places pressure on your stomach, forcing contents upwards. A healthy fetus of 27 weeks is large enough to place this pressure on the stomach.
  • The hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy.
  • The sphincter at the top of the stomach, which prevents retrograde movement of digested material upwards, is more relaxed in pregnancy. The failure of this circular muscle allows acidic stomach contents to flow backwards.
  • You were prone to dyspepsia prior to your pregnancy.

How to Relieve Indigestion During Pregnancy?

Lifestyle Changes

1. Keep upright after a meal and wait about an hour after a meal to lie down. This upright position will not exert any undue pressure on the stomach. This includes bending the knees when you have to reach the floor rather than bending over.

2. Eat smaller meals more frequently so that your tummy is not overly full, making you prone to refluxing. Ensure you eat a healthy, balanced diet. The old adage "eating for two" is not correct so don't feel as if you have to eat more than you normally would.

3. Certain foods may trigger your dyspepsia. Keep a record of all foods you consume and take note of which give you heartburn. A general rule-of-thumb is to steer clear of spicy, rich and fatty foods. Some people also react to chocolate, citrus fruits, fruit juices, etc.

4. Limit liquid or water intake during a meal because this also increases the likelihood of heartburn. It is better to drink the water before or after the meal. If it is unavoidable, take small sips of water.

5. Limit or completely eliminate caffeine and alcohol. Intake of alcohol also increases the likelihood of miscarriage and birth defects. Minimize caffeine consumption for a healthier pregnancy.

6. Smoking should be stopped immediately because apart from being harmful to the fetus, the valve between the stomach and esophagus becomes relaxed in smokers making reflux easier. Smoking causes premature births, babies born with a low birth weight and makes the infant more predisposed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

7. If you suffer from dyspepsia at night-time, eat your last meal of the day at least 3 hours prior to going to sleep. This time will allow for the food to be digested while you're upright and allow for gastric emptying i.e. the food will digest enough to empty out of the stomach and into the small intestine.

8. Some women find relief if they sleep at a slight incline. Either prop up the mattress or the actual bed frame so that the head is a few inches higher than the foot of the bed. You may also use pillows to keep your head and shoulders above the level of the stomach. Gravity will play its part in keeping the stomach contents where they should be.

9. Wear loose, comfortable clothing, especially around the waist, that do not place too much pressure on the stomach area causing dyspepsia.

Medical Treatments

Ensure that whatever over-the-counter medication you purchase for the indigestion during pregnancy is safe for use in pregnancy and be sure to follow the dosage instructions very carefully to avoid any accidental overdose. Be aware that antacids can interfere with the absorption of other medications that you may be taking concurrently.

  • Antacids–work by making the pH of the stomach acid neutral so that it doesn't irritate the esophageal mucosa.
  • Alginates–form a barrier that settles on the top of acidic stomach contents keeping it from refluxing. They are usually formulated in combination with an antacid so that the barrier and the antacid work together to restrict the reflux.

If one of the above 2 remedies don't work effectively, your doctor may prescribe acid-suppressing medications:

  • Ranitidine–these tablets are usually prescribed to be taken twice daily.
  • Omeprazole–typically a once daily dosage. Symptoms are expected to stop after about 5 days.

When to Call the Doctor

  • If the nausea and vomiting don't stop
  • You're losing weight rather that picking up weight
  • You're experiencing pain in the abdominal region