What causes acid reflux during pregnancy?
Heartburn during pregnancy is often as a result of changing hormones in the body. These changes cause the digestive system to slow down. Muscles in the body that normally aid digestion by pushing food down the oesophagus (the tube between your mouth and your stomach) also move slowly during pregnancy.
During normal digestion, food travels down the oesophagus and through a muscular valve known as the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES), and into the stomach. This ring of muscle acts as a gate between the stomach and the oesophagus. Normally this opens up to allow food to pass through and then closes in order to prevent stomach acid from coming back up.
Heartburn or acid reflux occurs when the LES relaxes more frequently and allows stomach acid, or even food, to seep back up into the oesophagus. Stomach acid coming into contact with the mucosa (the sensitive protective lining of the digestive system) thus causes the burning sensation you feel in your chest area known as heartburn and acid reflux.
As a woman’s uterus grows during the second and third trimesters to accommodate the growth of the baby, an increasing amount of pressure is placed on the stomach. This can sometimes cause an increase in levels of discomfort and pain, resulting in either heartburn (or mild indigestion) or acid reflux (GERD).
GERD is common during all three stages of pregnancy, not just towards the latter stages. It is rare, however, for GERD to cause any unmanageable complications such as esophagitis (inflammation of the oesophagus). Treatment for acid reflux in pregnancy is no different than it would be for any other person experiencing similar symptoms.
Much of the treatment involved in milder cases is managed by lifestyle changes which can help to prevent or minimise symptoms or discomfort. Most heartburn or acid reflux symptoms experienced during pregnancy usually clear up within a month or so once the baby is born. Hormone levels and the body usually begin to return to normal during the first month following the birth.