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Indigestion During Pregnancy – Symptoms, Remedies, and Causes

During pregnancy, women experience a lot of changes in the body and usually various discomforts. Changes in the woman’s body during pregnancy include changes in the cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, weight, skin, and digestive tract. One of the most common complaints among pregnant women is indigestion.

Commonly known as upset stomach, indigestion or dyspepsia in medical terms occurs as a result of the impaired digestive function of the body. During pregnancy, dyspepsia is not associated with any underlying organic disease, hence called functional dyspepsia or indigestion. Indigestion often occurs together with gastric reflux.

Gastric reflux is the phenomenon when gastric contents regurgitate or move up the esophagus due to the relaxation of the esophageal sphincter. Gastric reflux is also known as heartburn which may cause considerable pain in the chest.

The occurrence of functional dyspepsia during pregnancy is associated with the presence of hormones that are produced during pregnancy. Indigestion is usually felt or experienced during the first, second, and third trimesters.

Indigestion during Pregnancy Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms of indigestion include:

  • Chronic pain in the upper abdomen after eating
  • Tender abdomen upon palpation
  • Early feeling of fullness
  • Bloating
  • Gassy feeling
  • Belching
  • Nausea
  • Perspiration along with severe pain
  • Heartburn

Although indigestion is a normal occurrence during pregnancy due to the hormones, the presence of additional symptoms such as unintentional weight loss, loss of appetite, difficulty in swallowing, abdominal swelling, and persistent vomiting may be signs of a more serious condition such as peptic ulcer disease. During these instances, prompt consultation with a physician is important.

What Causes Indigestion During Pregnancy?

The main cause of dyspepsia during pregnancy is the presence of increased amounts of hormones that affect the digestive system. First, progesterone levels which maintain the pregnancy by protecting the uterine contents until delivery, are high. Progesterone is produced initially by the corpus luteum, the structure that contained the egg cell.

  • After the corpus luteum has degraded, the placenta produces progesterone to maintain the pregnancy. It helps maintain the endometrial layer, which supplies oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. Progesterone causes changes in the digestive system such that it slows down the peristaltic movement of the stomach and the intestines, thereby reducing stomach emptying.
  • This causes a feeling of fullness even after eating small amounts of food. Aside from progesterone, another hormone responsible for dyspepsia is human placental lactogen (HPL). This is a hormone produced by the placenta to make the mother ready for breast milk production. However, this hormone also causes the slow peristaltic movement of the digestive tract.
  • When peristalsis is decreased, there is a tendency for food to not be properly digested and absorbed in the intestines in the appropriate time. As a result, dyspepsia occurs. These hormones also relax the esophageal sphincter, leading to heartburn. In addition, they tend to decrease the contractility of the smooth muscles of the stomach, reducing the digestive mechanism of the organ.
  • Indigestion and heartburn become more severe during the second and third trimesters when the growing fetus starts to displace the abdominal organs, including the stomach and the intestines. This makes no room for large amounts of food and considerably decreases the contractility and peristaltic movement.

Certain conditions also contribute to the aggravation or the initiation of dyspepsia. For example:

  • Eating fatty foods
  • Consuming bulk foods
  • Eating too rapidly
  • Not maintaining an upright position after meals

Treatment for Indigestion during Pregnancy

Dyspepsia can be treated using the following medications. It is important to consult a physician before taking medications during pregnancy to prevent any adverse effects on the fetus.

  • Antacids – Antacids are commonly given for the treatment of dyspepsia and heartburn. Antacids with aluminum and magnesium can be used. Those that contain magnesium trisilicate and sodium bicarbonate should be avoided because these could lead to abnormalities in the fetus. Antacids usually interfere with the absorption of iron so they should be taken at different times. Iron is essential for hemoglobin production for the mother and the fetus; thus, absorption of iron should be optimal. Antacids with calcium should also be avoided because it may lead to fetal toxicity caused by excessive calcium.
  • Gastric stimulants – Medications such as domperidone help enhance the peristaltic movement of the stomach and the intestines, hence relieving dyspepsia. It stimulates the smooth muscles of the digestive tract, contracting and enhancing gastric emptying.

It should be mentioned that any intake of medication during pregnancy should be consulted with the obstetrician to protect the fetus from harmful medications. When medication use is not possible, home remedies may be instituted.

Home remedies for Indigestion During Pregnancy

Home remedies for indigestion include:

  • Small, frequent meals – It is better to consume small frequent meals during pregnancy to allow the stomach and the intestines to maximize their functions. In addition, increased nutrient and energy intake are taken from small frequent meals.
  • Smoking cessation– Pregnant women who are smokers should avoid smoking not just to prevent or reduce dyspepsia and heartburn, but also to prevent its teratogenic effect on the fetus. Smoking increases production of stomach acids and leads to dyspepsia and indigestion. Read Smoking During Pregnancy Risks, Effects to Mother and Baby
  • Avoidance of excessive weight gain – Excessive weight gain during pregnancy may also contribute to dyspepsia because the very large fetus further displaces the abdominal contents.
  • Avoidance of certain foods and beverages – Sodas, coffee, and fruit juices that contain too much sugar should be avoided. Moreover, spicy foods and sweet foods such as chocolate should be avoided because these trigger dyspepsia.
  • Intake of ginger candies or ginger tea – Ginger, known for its effect of enhancing the peristaltic movement of the digestive tract, prevents indigestion and may relieve current indigestion. Read Top 12 Ginger Health Benefits and Uses
  • Exercise and physical activities – Pregnant women should not stay or be confined in bed all the time for they need exercises such as walking and swimming to stimulate smooth muscle contraction in the abdomen, stomach, and intestines, thereby relieving indigestion. Adequate activity and exercise help the overall functions of the digestive tract.
  • Position after eating – Lying down immediately after eating causes the stomach acids to regurgitate in the esophagus. Indigestion is caused by a lack of stomach acid in the intestine.

Pregnant women are usually more sensitive than other people when it comes to body changes due to their fear of harming the fetus. It is important to consider that indigestion, one of the physiological changes in pregnancy, should not be feared.

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