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Indigestion (dyspepsia) in pregnancy - Self help for indigestion (dyspepsia) in pregnancy

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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If you have indigestion (dyspepsia) while you are pregnant, you may not need medicine to control your symptoms.

Your GP or midwife may suggest some of the following simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. In many cases, these changes are enough to ease the symptoms of indigestion during pregnancy.

Stop smoking

Smoking while pregnant can cause indigestion and seriously affect your health and that of your unborn baby. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of:

  • your baby being born prematurely (before week 37 of the pregnancy)
  • your baby being born with a low birth weight
  • cot death

When you smoke, the chemicals you inhale can contribute to your indigestion. These chemicals can cause the lower oesophageal sphincter (ring of muscle) that separates your oesophagus (gullet) from your stomach to relax. This allows stomach acid to leak back up into your gullet more easily (acid reflux).

If you smoke, giving up is the best thing that you can do for your own and your baby's health. See the Health A-Z topic about Quitting smoking for more information and advice, or speak to your GP, midwife or pharmacist.

The NHS Smoking Helpline offers advice and encouragement to help you quit smoking. Call them on 0800 022 4 332 or visit the NHS Smokefree website.

Avoid alcohol

Drinking alcohol can contribute to the symptoms of indigestion. If you are pregnant, it can also put your unborn baby at risk of developing serious birth defects.

The Department of Health recommends that all pregnant women avoid drinking alcohol altogether. However, if you choose to drink while you are pregnant, do not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week, and avoid getting drunk.

One unit of alcohol is approximately half a pint of normal strength lager, cider or bitter, a pub measure (25ml) of spirits or a 50ml pub measure of fortified wine, such as sherry or port.

Eat healthily

You are more likely to get indigestion if you are very full, so regularly eating large amounts of food may make your symptoms worse. If you are pregnant, it can be tempting to eat much more than you would normally, but this may not be good for either you or your baby.

During pregnancy, you do not need to go on a special diet, but it is important to eat a variety of different foods every day in order to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need.

See the Pregnancy care planner for more information about what you should be eating during your pregnancy.

Change your eating habits

In some cases, you may be able to control your indigestion by making changes to the way you eat. For example:

  • It may help to eat smaller meals more frequently, rather than larger meals three times a day.
  • Avoid eating within three hours of going to bed at night.
  • Sit up straight when you eat because this will take the pressure off your stomach.

Drinking a glass of milk may relieve heartburn (the burning sensation from stomach acid leaking up into your gullet). You may want to keep a glass of milk beside your bed in case you wake up with heartburn in the night.

Avoid triggers

You may find that your indigestion is made worse by certain triggers, such as:

  • drinking fruit juice
  • eating chocolate
  • bending over

Make a note of any particular food, drink or activity that seems to make your indigestion worse and avoid them if possible. This may mean:

  • eating less rich, spicy and fatty foods
  • cutting down on drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee and cola

Medicines

Speak to your GP if you are taking medication for another condition, such as antidepressants or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), and you think it may be contributing to your indigestion.

Your GP may be able to prescribe an alternative medicine. Never stop taking a prescribed medication unless you are advised to do so by your GP or another qualified healthcare professional who is responsible for your care.

Prop your head up

When you go to bed, use a couple of pillows to prop your head and shoulders up, or raise the head of your bed by a few inches by putting something underneath the mattress.

The slight slope should help prevent stomach acid from moving up into your oesophagus (gullet) while you are asleep.

Acid reflux

Acid reflux is a condition that causes heartburn when acid from the stomach flows up into the throat.

Heartburn

Heartburn is a painful, burning discomfort felt in the chest, usually after eating.

Oesophagus (gullet)

The oesophagus is the tube that runs from your throat to your stomach.

Stomach

The sac-like organ of the digestive system. It helps digest food by churning it and mixing it with acids to break it down into smaller pieces.
Medical Review: May 15, 2010
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