Hearts on Fire: Bloating and Indigestion in Pregnancy

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Some of the symptoms of pregnancy are fun and help get you excited about being a mom. But, some are uncomfortable and downright embarrassing. Think: heartburn, indigestion, and gas. The nausea of early pregnancy may wane after the first trimester, but these awkward gastrointestinal symptoms of mid-pregnancy can spoil an otherwise fun time of getting ready for baby. Luckily, these symptoms are rarely harmful and are merely an unpleasantness that will go away once the baby arrives.

The problems

During pregnancy, your body is producing extra hormones (mostly estrogen and progesterone) to relax smooth muscle tissue. While this helps your body accommodate a growing baby and, eventually, the delivery of said baby, it also causes relaxation in other parts of your body like your gastrointestinal tract. This extra-relaxed system is primed for bloating, constipation, stomachaches, heartburn, and gas. Plus, your digestion slows down during pregnancy, which leads to even more bloating and gas, and the weight you gain during pregnancy puts extra pressure on your digestive tract.

Heartburn (which has nothing to do with your heart) is a burning sensation in your throat or chest that usually occurs after meals. It’s caused by acid from your stomach flowing backwards and up into your esophagus. A valve between the stomach and esophagus normally stays closed and prevents this backwash of stomach juices, but, when the valve is too relaxed—such as during pregnancy—it can’t stay closed and keep the acids in the right place. And, as your uterus grows during pregnancy, it can press on the valve, making it even harder for it to stay closed. Indigestion (also called “dyspepsia”) is a catch-all term that can include any digestion-related pain or discomfort such as heartburn, gas, bloating, burping, and feeling overly full after eating.

Uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms may not be all your body’s fault. You may be eating foods or engaging (or not engaging) in activities that make the bloating and indigestion worse. These foods are known to make gas, bloating, and indigestion worse and you may want to consider avoiding them: greasy, fatty, or highly seasoned food; dairy products; cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower; garlic and onions; beans; caffeine, which is found in chocolate, soft drinks, and coffee; citrus products like oranges or orange juice; peppermint; and foods with added sweeteners like fructose and sorbitol. Additionally, eating too much at once or eating too fast can make you bloated and uncomfortable.

The solutions

 Try these tips to relieve the pressures of bloating and gas:

  • Keep moving after you eat—consider taking a leisurely walk after a meal
  • Sit upright while eating and avoid lying down right after a meal
  • Wear loose clothing that doesn’t constrict your abdomen
  • Drink warm liquids
  • Avoid carbonated beverages
  • Try eating small meals throughout the day
  • Drink lots of water
  • Don’t eat late at night (your last meal should be 2 to 3 hours before bedtime)
  • Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout your pregnancy
  • Incorporate fiber into your diet
  • Reduce stress and practice relaxation techniques
  • Do not smoke and do not drink alcohol
  • Raise the head of your bed a few inches (or sleep with a pillow wedged under your shoulders to keep your head and chest elevated)

If these simple tips don’t help, keep a food and activity diary and try to pinpoint exactly what makes your symptoms better or worse. Identifying the culprits of your indigestion can help you avoid them.

Some medications are available that can relieve some symptoms of indigestion. Calcium carbonate chews (Tums) and aluminum and magnesium antacids (Maalox, Mylanta) lower the amount of acid in the stomach and simethicone (Mylicon, Gas-X) helps break up bubbles of gas: these are usually safe to take during pregnancy, but talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication while you are pregnant.

If these tips don’t help the bloating and indigestion go away, talk to your doctor to make sure that nothing else is causing your symptoms. And, if you develop severe diarrhea, have trouble swallowing, have severe pain in your abdomen, or notice blood in your stools or vomit, call your doctor right away.

Jennifer Gibson
Dr. Jennifer Gibson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Clemson University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She trained as a hospital pharmacist and is the author of clinical textbooks, peer-reviewed journal articles, and continuing education programs for the medical community, as well as a contributor to award-winning healthcare blogs and websites. In her free time, she enjoys running, reading, traveling, and spending time with her family.

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