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Managing GERD During Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions

Pregnant Woman

Pregnancy is a remarkable journey filled with various physical and emotional changes. Among these changes, some women may experience a common yet uncomfortable condition known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). In this blog article, we'll explore why GERD is common during pregnancy, its potential impact on pregnancy, when symptoms typically appear, how it progresses through trimesters, and what you can do to manage it safely. We'll also discuss the safety of GERD medications during pregnancy, alternative ways to alleviate symptoms, dietary adjustments, nighttime GERD management, when to seek medical advice, and whether GERD goes away after pregnancy.

Why is GERD Common During Pregnancy?

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is a digestive disorder characterized by the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. During pregnancy, several factors contribute to the prevalence of GERD:

1. Hormonal Changes: One of the primary reasons for GERD during pregnancy is hormonal fluctuations. Increased levels of the hormone progesterone cause the muscles that control the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax. When this happens, it becomes easier for stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, leading to heartburn and other GERD symptoms.

2. Pressure on the Abdomen: As the baby grows, the uterus exerts pressure on the stomach, pushing its contents upwards. This pressure can force stomach acid into the esophagus, causing discomfort.

3. Relaxation of Digestive Muscles: In addition to the LES, the muscles responsible for propelling food through the digestive tract may also become more relaxed due to pregnancy hormones. This can slow down digestion and increase the likelihood of acid reflux.

Can GERD Affect Pregnancy?

GERD itself typically doesn't directly affect the pregnancy or the developing fetus. However, it can cause significant discomfort and disrupt sleep, which may indirectly impact a pregnant woman's overall well-being and quality of life. Severe and untreated GERD can lead to complications like esophagitis or Barrett's esophagus, but these are relatively rare during pregnancy.

When Do GERD Symptoms Typically Appear During Pregnancy?

GERD symptoms can appear at any time during pregnancy, but they are most common in the second and third trimesters. This is when the uterus expands significantly, exerting more pressure on the stomach and promoting the relaxation of the LES.

Will GERD Get Worse During the Second or Third Trimester?

For many pregnant women, GERD symptoms tend to worsen as pregnancy progresses, especially during the second and third trimesters. The combination of hormonal changes, increased abdominal pressure, and slower digestion can intensify symptoms. However, the severity of GERD can vary widely among individuals, and not all pregnant women experience worsening symptoms.

If I Had GERD Before, Will It Get Worse During Pregnancy?

If you had GERD before becoming pregnant, you may be at a higher risk of experiencing more pronounced symptoms during pregnancy. However, the severity of GERD during pregnancy can still vary from woman to woman. It's essential to communicate with your healthcare provider about your pre-existing condition, as they can guide managing GERD while pregnant.

Are GERD Drugs Safe to Take During Pregnancy?

Managing GERD during pregnancy often involves lifestyle modifications and dietary changes as the first line of defense. However, in some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend medications to relieve severe symptoms. While the safety of any medication during pregnancy should be discussed with a healthcare professional, certain medications for GERD, like antacids and H2 blockers, are generally considered safe for short-term use during pregnancy. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) should be used with caution and only under the guidance of a healthcare provider due to potential concerns about long-term use and fetal development.

Can GERD Medications Cause Birth Defects?

The safety of medications during pregnancy is a crucial concern. Studies on the use of antacids and H2 blockers in pregnancy have not shown a significantly increased risk of birth defects. However, as with any medication during pregnancy, it's essential to consult your healthcare provider before starting or continuing any treatment.

What Are Other Ways to Reduce GERD During Pregnancy?

Managing GERD during pregnancy often involves a combination of lifestyle changes and home remedies. Here are some effective strategies to reduce GERD symptoms:

1. Elevate Your Upper Body: Sleeping with your upper body elevated can help prevent nighttime reflux. Consider using extra pillows or a wedge pillow to prop yourself up.

2. Eat Smaller, Frequent Meals: Large meals can put more pressure on your stomach, leading to acid reflux. Opt for smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.

3. Avoid Trigger Foods: Identify foods that trigger your GERD symptoms and avoid them. Common triggers include spicy foods, citrus fruits, caffeine, and fatty or fried foods.

4. Stay Upright After Meals: Don't lie down immediately after eating. Instead, remain upright for at least two hours to allow your food to digest properly.

5. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess weight can exacerbate GERD symptoms. Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise can help alleviate symptoms.

6. Chew Gum: Chewing sugarless gum after meals can stimulate saliva production, which can help neutralize stomach acid.

7. Consider Herbal Remedies: Some herbal remedies, such as ginger or chamomile tea, may provide relief from GERD symptoms. Consult with your healthcare provider before using herbal supplements during pregnancy.

What Foods Help with Acid Reflux During Pregnancy?

While certain foods can trigger GERD symptoms, others may help alleviate them. Consider incorporating these GERD-friendly foods into your pregnancy diet:

1. Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a low-acid, high-fiber option that can soothe the stomach.

2. Ginger: Ginger, in various forms such as ginger tea or ginger candies, may help relieve nausea and indigestion.

3. Bananas: Bananas are low in acid and can provide a soothing effect on the esophagus.

4. Yogurt: Opt for plain, low-fat yogurt to help balance stomach acid.

5. Vegetables: Non-acidic vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and green beans are gentle on the stomach.

6. Lean Proteins: Skinless poultry, fish, and lean cuts of meat are less likely to trigger GERD symptoms.

7. Whole Grains: Whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread can be less irritating to the esophagus.

How to Reduce GERD at Night During Pregnancy

Nighttime GERD can be particularly disruptive to sleep. To minimize nighttime symptoms, try these tips:

1. Elevate Your Upper Body: As mentioned earlier, use pillows or a wedge pillow to raise your upper body while sleeping.

2. Sleep on Your Left Side: Sleeping on your left side can help prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus.

3. Avoid Late-Night Eating: Finish your meals at least two to three hours before bedtime to allow for digestion.

4. Stay Hydrated During the Day: Sip fluids throughout the day to stay hydrated, but limit your intake in the evening to reduce the risk of nighttime reflux.

5. Relaxation Techniques: Practice relaxation exercises like deep breathing or meditation to reduce stress, which can exacerbate GERD symptoms.

When to See a Doctor

While many pregnant women experience mild GERD symptoms that can be managed with lifestyle changes, it's essential to seek medical advice if:

1. Your symptoms are severe or persistent.

2. You're losing weight unintentionally.

3. You have difficulty swallowing or experience pain when swallowing.

4. You notice blood in your vomit or stool.

5. You have asthma or other respiratory problems alongside GERD symptoms.

6. Over-the-counter antacids or lifestyle changes don't provide relief.

Your healthcare provider can evaluate your condition and recommend appropriate treatment options, including safe medications if necessary.

Does GERD Go Away After Pregnancy?

The good news is that GERD symptoms often improve or resolve after pregnancy. As your hormonal levels return to normal and your uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size, the factors contributing to GERD during pregnancy diminish. However, if you continue to experience GERD symptoms postpartum, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider for further evaluation and guidance on long-term management.

Managing GERD during pregnancy involves understanding why it occurs, recognizing its potential impact on pregnancy, and adopting strategies to alleviate symptoms safely. While GERD can be uncomfortable, it's usually a temporary condition that improves after childbirth. By making lifestyle modifications, watching your diet, and consulting with your healthcare provider when needed, you can navigate your pregnancy journey with greater comfort and ease. Remember that every pregnancy is unique, so it's essential to tailor your GERD management plan to your specific needs and circumstances.

Complete Healthcare for Women - Obstetrics and Gynecology


Richard Lorenzo, D.O.

Kortney Jones ARNP

Kortney Jones, ARNP Kortney Jones, ARNP Kortney Jones is board certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. She provides ob-gyn services including birth control, pregnancy and prenatal care, and infertility as well as gynecological services such as women’s health and wellness, abnormal uterine bleeding, endometriosis, pellet hormone therapy, and menopause.

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