Most women complain of indigestion during pregnancy, which is a common problem. Dyspepsia or indigestion is caused by the hormonal fluctuations and physical changes occurring in the body during pregnancy.
Indigestion is characterized by stomach aches or discomfort in the upper abdomen and most commonly appears at the end of the second trimester. Besides this, indigestion leads to other common pregnancy-related problems such as bloating, nausea, and heartburn.
This post will help you understand more about pregnancy-induced indigestion, including its causes, symptoms, treatments, whether it affects the baby, and when to consult a doctor.
What Causes Indigestion During Pregnancy?
Indigestion is more prevalent during pregnancy because of:
- Hormonal fluctuations: The levels of progesterone hormone increase during pregnancy to support the baby’s development. This relaxes the muscles, including the intestines that further slow down the metabolism, leading to indigestion.
- Growing fetus: Especially in the later pregnancy stages, the growing baby places pressure on your tummy, thus limiting the room to hold the food. Even a small meal makes you feel full and pressurizes intestines, affecting the digestion.
- Heartburn: Sometimes, you may experience a strong burning sensation after a meal, as the relaxed muscles between the stomach and esophagus push back the acids into the food pipe. This causes discomfort in the chest and abdomen (1).
Apart from the above reasons, your risk of indigestion increases if you:
- Have had indigestion problems before pregnancy
- Are in the later pregnancy stages (2)
- Have gastrointestinal reflux disease
- Have hernias
- Eat large meals, or fatty foods, or drink caffeinated beverages
- Perform any physical activity soon after meals
- Are carrying more than one baby
Pregnancy-related indigestion could be more prominent during certain trimesters depending on the baby’s development.
When Do You Have Indigestion During Pregnancy?
What Are The Symptoms Of Indigestion?
Symptoms of indigestion are different for every woman. They are usually experienced after a meal and include (3):
- Discomfort during or after a meal
- Heartburn, the burning sensation that ascends from the tummy
- Stomach pain and uneasiness
- Feeling heavy
- Regurgitation (food returning to the food pipe)
- Nausea and vomiting
The above signs and symptoms appear and disappear, and are not persistent throughout the day. They are known to increase both in severity and frequency as you near the third trimester.
Does Indigestion Harm Your Baby?
No, indigestion is not at all harmful for the baby although it is uncomfortable and painful for you. Slowed digestion might benefit the baby as the body gets more time to pass the nutrients into the placenta.
How To Relieve Indigestion During Pregnancy?
- Avoid putting excess pressure on your stomach especially after eating. Sit up straight and give some time before lying down atleast one to two hours before going to bed.
- Bending at the knee as bending over your waist may make indigestion worse.
- Include several small meals instead of three large meals for a day. Eat your meal slowly by chewing properly before you swallow it.
- Limit drinks containing caffeine and alcohol as they aggravate indigestion. Ideally, you should stay away from these during pregnancy.
- Avoid spicy foods, fatty foods, chocolates, and fruit juices as they make indigestion worse. Maintain a dairy with a list of foods that may be making you uncomfortable.
- Sit upright when you eat. It helps to take off the pressure from the tummy and eases digestion.
- The symptoms are more pronounced when you sleep. Therefore, have your dinner at least two hours before going to bed.
- Sleep by propping your head up with a couple of pillows. It prevents the flow of the acids back into the food pipe and relieves symptoms in the nighttime.
- Do not drink water during a meal as it aggravates symptoms of indigestion. Drink before or after the meal. If possible, eat solid and liquid food separately.
- Take ginger either as a toffee or raw form.
- Wear loose and comfortable clothing especially around your waist. Tight clothing can put more pressure on the tummy, making indigestion worse.
- Spend some time meditating or listening to music before bedtime. It helps you de-stress as well as lets you maintain that gap between meals and bedtime.
When To Seek A Doctor’s Help?
Indigestion and its related symptoms could be alarming, especially if you have never experienced them before pregnancy. If the above remedies do not work and the symptoms get worse, seek the doctor’s help. Check with your doctor if you are:
- Finding difficulty in swallowing the food
- Throwing up blood
- Having severe heartburn
- Unable to sleep due to a burning sensation
- Passing black stools
- Losing weight excessively
- Experiencing pain in the abdomen (2)
Depending on the severity, the doctor would recommend the ideal course of treatment.
Medicines For Indigestion
Never take over-the-counter medication without your doctor’s consent. Listed below are the different medications available for treating indigestion during pregnancy.
- Antacids – Available in the form of tablets or alkaline liquids, they neutralize stomach acids and curb irritation (6).
- Alginates – They are usually taken along with antacids to relieve indigestion caused by reflux. They form a covering around the acids preventing the reflux into the food pipe (7).
If the above acid-neutralizing medications do not work, your doctor might prescribe the following acid-suppressing medications.
- Omeprazole – Suppresses the stomach acids, with the recommended dosage of one per day. However, it belongs to Category C drugs rating by the FDA (8).
- Ranitidine – This is a substitute for omeprazole, and the dosage is twice a day. It minimizes the acid levels in the stomach (9).
Next, we answer a few common questions for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Early Can You Develop Indigestion In Pregnancy?
You can experience indigestion anytime during pregnancy, even as early as the first trimester, although it is more common in the second and the third trimesters (10).
2. What Foods Cause Indigestion In Pregnancy?
Not all women have the same reaction to all foods. However, the most common indigestion-causing foods are citrus fruits, fried foods, oily foods, carbonated drinks, caffeine, alcohol, tomato-based foods, onions, garlic and mint flavored foods (11)..
Indigestion during pregnancy is typical and seldom severe, causing no harm to your baby. While it may occur anytime during pregnancy, the chances of indigestion increase during the 27th week, causing symptoms such as heartburn, stomachache, bloating, and a feeling of heaviness, especially after a meal. Therefore, you should understand the risk factors and take necessary measures to prevent the condition from worsening. Adopting healthy dietary habits and lifestyles could be beneficial. Avoid taking any medicine as much as possible and seek medical assistance immediately if you have persistent discomfort.
2. Indigestion and heartburn in pregnancy; NHS (2017)
3. Indigestion (Dyspepsia); American Academy of Family Physicians (2018)
4. Maternal Health And Nutrition; Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services
5. Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy; Washington State Department of Health (2014)
6. Ronald A. Black & D. Ashley Hill; Over-the-Counter Medications in Pregnancy; American Family Physician (2003)
7. Pontip M & Vorapong P; Efficacy of alginate-based reflux suppressant and magnesium-aluminium antacid gel for treatment of heartburn in pregnancy: a randomized double-blind controlled trial; Sci Rep (2017)
8. David A. Johnson et al.; The Safety of Appropriate Use of Over-the-Counter Proton Pump Inhibitors: An Evidence-Based Review and Delphi Consensus; Drugs (2017)
9. Juan C Vazquez; Heartburn in pregnancy; BMJ Clin Evid (2015)
10. Indigestion and heartburn in pregnancy; Healthdirect Australia
11. Carolyn Dunn; Nutrition Decisions: Eat Smart, Move More; page 63