Pregnancy comes with a host of discomforts--women often have morning sickness starting a few weeks after conception, and continue with back pain, heartburn, uterine pain, and a variety of other symptoms. Stomach discomfort is quite common, particularly during the later trimesters of pregnancy, and is due to the size of the baby.
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The reason for stomach pain after eating can be multifaceted in pregnant women, because of the many ways in which pregnancy affects the digestive tract. Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, in their book "What To Expect When You're Expecting," explain that pregnancy slows the digestive tract, leading to increased gas and constipation. Hormones, too, loosen sphincter muscles, which can allow acid from the stomach to reflux back into the esophagus, leading to heartburn.
While gut pain during pregnancy can strike at any time, the most common time for discomfort is after eating. This is because the stomach secretes more acid after eating, and the loose esophageal sphincter allows acid back into the esophagus, causing pain. Dr. Raymond Poliakin, in his book "What You Didn't Think To Ask Your Obstetrician," notes that the combination of full stomach and growing baby exacerbates the problem, by crowding a woman's abdomen.
Some women have more frequent stomach pain after eating than others. Because stomach discomfort is very individual, women who have gastric distress after meals during pregnancy may benefit from keeping a food diary. If they find the distress always occurs after eating a certain food, they can stay away from that item, explain Murkoff and Mazel. Heavy meals are also common triggers of pregnancy stomach pain, and women may want to eat several small meals.
Dr. Poliakin explains that there are a few techniques for preventing or treating stomach pain after eating during pregnancy. First, pregnant women can use antacids, as long as they don't contain aspirin. Tums are popular, as is baking soda in water, though women whose doctors have them on low-sodium diets should talk to their doctor before using baking soda, because it contains sodium. It's also helpful to remain sitting or standing for an hour after eating.
While it may be difficult to completely prevent heartburn and acid stomach-related pain during pregnancy, Dr. Miriam Stoppard advises a diet high in fiber and plenty of water to prevent gas-related stomach pain. In her book "Conception, Pregnancy and Birth," Dr. Stoppard notes that high-fiber diets help keep the digestive tract functioning smoothly, and reduce the gas production associated with slow movement of food. This can reduce intestinal pain and cramping that sometimes affects pregnant women.
- “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”; Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel; 2008
- “What You Didn’t Think to Ask Your Obstetrician”; Raymond Poliakin, M.D.; 2007
- “Conception, Pregnancy and Birth”; Miriam Stoppard, M.D.; 2008