Acid reflux is a feeling that happens when acid from the stomach moves up toward the throat. It can cause regurgitation and a painful, burning sensation in the chest.

The technical name for acid reflux is gastroesophageal reflux, or GER. The main symptoms are:

  • regurgitation, where stomach contents come back up the esophagus as far as the throat or mouth
  • heartburn, which creates a burning sensation in the middle of the chest

Other possible symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • difficulty swallowing
  • pain
  • hoarseness
  • persistent cough

Different factors can cause acid reflux. However, it commonly occurs as a symptom of pregnancy, affecting 17–45% of pregnant people.

Most of the time, the condition ends soon after the baby is born.

This article considers the causes of acid reflux, what to do about it, and its relationship to pregnancy.

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There are several reasons why pregnancy can induce acid reflux.

Hormone changes affect the pressure within the esophageal sphincter, which connects the esophagus to the stomach. This causes a series of processes that ultimately cause acid from the stomach to rise into the esophagus (food pipe).

The uterus itself might cause acid reflux by putting pressure on the stomach, causing the contents to rise into the esophagus.

Other aspects of pregnancy, such as changes in bowel movements or medications that people take during pregnancy, can also play a role in causing acid reflux.

The cause of acid reflux symptoms is acid from the stomach that goes back up the esophagus. This can happen when the lower esophageal sphincter, which is a group of muscles at the bottom of the esophagus, becomes weak or relaxes.

Reasons behind the changes that cause acid reflux can include:

  • pregnancy
  • having overweight
  • smoking tobacco
  • taking certain medications

Anyone experiencing acid reflux should contact a healthcare professional if they are experiencing complications of acid reflux, such as blood in their vomit or stool.

With pregnancy, there are other factors to consider when experiencing acid reflux. Some advice for treating acid reflux overlaps with pregnancy advice, such as avoiding alcohol and nicotine.

However, during pregnancy, a person should check with a healthcare professional before taking medication to treat symptoms. For example, it can be unsafe to take aspirin during pregnancy, and many over-the-counter (OTC) medications for treating acid reflux contain aspirin.

Additionally, an antacid medication that contains sodium bicarbonate or magnesium trisilicate may cause complications during pregnancy. This is because sodium bicarbonate can cause fluid to build up, causing swelling, and magnesium trisilicate can be harmful to a fetus.

Treating acid reflux in pregnancy is almost the same as treating acid reflux in any other situation.

The first thing to try should always be lifestyle changes. There are a number of things that a person can do at home to ease symptoms of the condition.

Methods of reducing acid reflux during pregnancy can include the following:

  • changing eating habits
  • avoiding tobacco
  • avoiding alcohol
  • avoiding tight clothes
  • changing sleeping position
  • trying to relax

Regardless of acid reflux, during pregnancy, a person should avoid tobacco and alcohol. This is because these substances significantly reduce the chances of a healthy pregnancy.

Eating habits can have a major influence on acid reflux. The following changes can help:

  • Eat smaller, more regular meals throughout the day.
  • Sit upright to eat to make it easier for food to travel down the esophagus.
  • Wait for 2–3 hours after a meal before lying down to sleep.
  • Avoid chocolate and mint, as these loosen the valve between the stomach and the esophagus.
  • Avoid caffeine and foods that are rich, fatty, and spicy.

Another lifestyle change to consider is sleeping habits. If acid reflux occurs during the night, it may help to raise the top of the mattress by 6–8 inches. This way, the body position still encourages food to travel downward, but still enables the person to lie down to sleep.

If lifestyle changes are not effective, the next thing to consider is medication. There are medications to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux. However, medicine that would usually be appropriate may be unsafe if the person is pregnant. A person should talk with their midwife or doctor before trying any OTC medications while pregnant.

A healthcare professional can suggest treatment strategies and medications. They can also assess to make sure that the symptoms are not because of a more serious cause.

A person should contact their doctor or midwife if OTC medication and lifestyle changes are not helping.

Additionally, acid reflux can cause complications that require medical attention. A person should contact their healthcare professional if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • unexplainable weight loss
  • frequent vomiting
  • blood in vomit or stool
  • inflammation in the esophagus
  • heartburn lasting over 3 weeks

Most people experience acid reflux at some point. Some have it as a chronic condition, while others have one-off situations. Acid reflux is common during pregnancy due to hormone changes and the physical pressure of the growing fetus.

Symptoms of acid reflux occur when stomach acid travels up the esophagus. It can happen if the muscles at the bottom of the esophagus are loose, the bottom of the esophagus is in the wrong position, or if there is an increase in pressure on the stomach.

It is possible to treat acid reflux using changes at home and by taking OTC medication. However, some forms of acid reflux medication are inappropriate during pregnancy. Always check that medication is safe to take during pregnancy before use.