The Truth about Acid Reflux – and What You Can Do About It

acid refluxWe’ve all heard the old wives’ tale. If you have lots of heartburn, your baby will have lots of hair! That interesting tidbit is no longer a mere myth – it has been scientifically proven.  Kathleen A. Costigan, RN, MPH, director of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore’s Fetal Assessment Center, authored a study in 2006 that found a definite relationship between heartburn and fetal hair. She proposed that the elevated levels of pregnancy hormones that relax the muscles of the LES (more on that below) also stimulate fetal hair growth.

So what causes it? Your esophagus and stomach are connected by the LES (Lower Esophageal Sphincter), which is the muscle controlling the comings and goings from the stomach. When pregnancy hormones cause the muscles in your body to relax, the LES relaxes too, allowing acids from the stomach to occasionally seep up the esophagus. Later in pregnancy, as Baby gets bigger and pushes on your stomach, the increased pressure may cause the heartburn to worsen. Fear not, there are many things that you can do to help ease the pain. We’ve compiled a list of things that you can try at home, starting with lifestyle changes that you can make today.

Modify your eating habits.

These are simple things that you can do right now that will have an immediate effect. Try things like:

  • Eating smaller meals more frequently.
  • Chewing your food thoroughly to aid digestion.
  • Sipping liquids during meals; save bulk water consumption for between meals.
  • Sitting or standing after a meal, perhaps go for a leisurely walk. Lying down increases the probability that acid will enter your esophagus.

Make some lifestyle changes.

Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak to make all the difference in the world. Here are some ideas:

  • Avoid late night snacking. Eating right before bed opens the door to heartburn. Doctors recommend not eating 2-3 hours before sleep.
  • Keep your head and chest elevated while you sleep. You can use a Bedge for this, or even put blocks underneath the head of your bed.
  • Know your triggers. Try to keep track of what you eat before you have particularly bad heartburn. Is it chocolate? French fries? Once you know, avoid those foods.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes. Why squeeze yourself into clothes that are uncomfortable? Now is the time to wear warm, comfortable maternity wear. The less pressure on your stomach, the better.

Consider taking something for relief.As always, double check with your physician before taking any medication.

  • Ginger ale and candies. Ginger soothes the stomach, bringing relief from heartburn, nausea and vomiting; it’s delicious and safe for pregnancy. Win!
  • Antacids containing calcium or magnesium should be safe to take during your pregnancy. Avoid antacids containing aluminum (may cause constipation and are toxic at high doses) or baking soda (will cause swelling).
  • H2 blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) are taken as acid suppressors, and you can find these medications right in your corner pharmacy. Some medicines are not as safe for pregnant women as others, so check with your doctor first.

Heartburn can be effectively treated without the use of medications and supplements; many women find relief by simply making lifestyle changes. Try to modify your eating habits today and see what happens; even the smallest change can have an effect. Just as a reminder, always check with your doctor before you take any medication or supplement. Did any of these help? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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