Pregnant + stomach sucks. WTF? (IT'S NOT MORNING SICKNESS).
June 18, 2014 2:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm asking for a friend. Whom I'm married to. She says: I am 16 weeks pregnant and am having a GI symptom that I can’t find any information about online, from my OB, or from several different nurse midwives. (univac sez: This is not about morning sickness. If you think this question is about morning sickness or nausea during pregnancy, GO AWAY.)

She continues:

I became incredibly nauseated around week 5. I rarely vomited, but I uncontrollably gagged and dry heaved all day and could barely function at work. I tried all the recommended home remedies (ginger, eating small meals, lemon, saltines, not letting my stomach get empty, ice cubes, protein, seabands, etc.). After losing 6 pounds (more from not being able to eat than from vomiting), I tried Reglan, which sort of worked for about a week but then stopped working, and then I tried Diclegis, which I’m still taking.

When nausea/dry heaving/constant gagging subsided a bit, I was able to differentiate between that and the other “sick” feeling I’d been having all along, and it’s what is still plaguing me. While I experience the sensation of nausea higher up in my body (what feels like the upper part of my stomach) or as a gaggy feeling in the back of my throat, I experience this other sensation in the lower part of my stomach (maybe my upper intestines?), what I would call the “pit” of my stomach. In my quest to understand and describe it to other people, I’ve come to call it “stomach rot,” because the sensation is that the food I just ate is just sitting in my stomach, rotting. (Disgusting, I know. Sorry.) It can last for several hours after a meal and ends up bleeding into the nausea/discomfort that is caused by an empty stomach, so the only time I feel okay is when I’m actually eating. Then the cycle starts again.

Initially I thought it was probably from digestion being slowed down, which I understand is a normal effect of progesterone. I began taking papaya enzyme after meals, which promotes peristalsis. It helps a lot but doesn’t take the feeling away.

I’m having a hard time dealing with it because I was so looking forward to the second trimester bliss that so many people talk about, a fantasy which included getting back to my regular, intense workout routine and healthy eating habits. I reasoned that once the placenta took over hormone production, this would subside, since I assume that it’s a result of progesterone and slowed digestion. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and I’m afraid this will be present for the next 6 months. Some days, the thought of that can be unbearable.

I’ve tried:
· Eating smaller meals more frequently. This doesn’t work because only the full dose of papaya enzyme is at all effective (4 tablets after a meal), and you can only take 12 total per day. So I end up trying to eat enough during each meal to get me through till the next one. Having a full stomach may exacerbate the problem (and is not great for blood sugar levels or heartburn and can trigger nausea for me), but I can’t handle the feeling that I get when I eat even a bite of food and don’t take the enzyme afterwards, so I’m stuck with this strategy for now.
· Paying attention to whether certain foods make it worse. I can’t find any patterns, and the severity continues to change day to day without any discernable cause.
· Mylanta (recommended by a midwife). This didn’t help and only gave me other really uncomfortable GI symptoms.
· Switching to an iron-free prenatal vitamin. This made me feel better overall but doesn’t seem to address this problem.
· Taking probiotics. I just started them about a week ago and they might be helping some, but it’s hard to tell because the severity varies from day to day.

My question is: Has anyone else experienced anything like this? Or even heard of it?! I’m not at this point hopeful for any magic cures, but just knowing someone else can relate, or having an understanding of what is happening, would be helpful for my mental health. And of course any strategies I haven’t thought of would be most welcome.
posted by univac to Health & Fitness (34 answers total)
Sorry to ask, but I think it's probably relevant -- have you noticed any change in the... outcome of digestion?
posted by oinopaponton at 2:36 PM on June 18, 2014

Have you tried any treatment for reflux? Tums can count as treatment for reflux but they really only treat the mildest cases. "Heartburn" doesn't have to involve the actual burning/salty taste in the back of your mouth.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:37 PM on June 18, 2014 [12 favorites]

Heartburn. Try Tums. Ask your doctor about what you can try beyond Tums.

Eating smaller meals more frequently can help, as can figuring out triggers and avoiding them (orange juice & tomato sauce for me, but ALSO EVERYTHING I ATE EVER).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:39 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had that during almost my entire pregnancy, right up until the end. No morning sickness ever, just this god awful feeling that's sort of related but not really. The only thing that helped me was, oddly, pizza crust (and by "oddly" I mean that it had to be pizza crust and not bread, crackers, saltines, etc). It had nothing to do with cravings - I did not enjoy those pizzas all that much. Oh, and I also had to be eating constantly... the relief would only last half an hour at most. The only positive thing I can say is that I nursed for a year and I lost all that weight that I gained eating pizza. 5 years after birth, I am actually a size smaller than I was pre-pregnancy. Good luck :)
posted by rada at 2:40 PM on June 18, 2014

I should also add the peptic ulcer disease can have similar symptoms, although it's not nearly as common in pregnancy as reflux is. The treatment, prescription medication wise, is similar.

Remember that the reflux is also caused by increased intra-abdominal pressure and gastric pressure related to your uterus physically enlarging within your abdomen - completely aside from the whole progesterone and motility issue.

Also, if it was simply a motility (speed of digestion) issue, Reglan probably should have helped more - it's a good pro-motility drug in addition to being a good antiemetic. Have you talked to an obstetrician about this issue, or just midwives? Midwives are great but they don't have a physician's training, and if the problem's bothering you this much, you definitely deserve to see a physician and get it fully worked up (even if that just means having a full history and physical done by them).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:46 PM on June 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I found I had a mucus problem that created some of the problems you describe (and it has persisted long past giving birth). Nothing abnormal, just the usual amount of extra snot in my system which I usually paid no attention to started affecting how I swallowed, which made me gag, and you can figure out the rest. Blowing my nose frequently, and spitting out any mucus buildup as soon as I sensed it, helped prevent vomiting when I felt it coming on.

Also, have you tried Preggie Pops? Not sure why they work, but they really held nausea at bay for me when other remedies didn't.
posted by Mchelly at 2:47 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had a tricky stomach for years in that I had heartburn, "acid stomach," other pains, and nausea on and off, which were much worse during pregnancy. When I was younger I took Tums, basking soda, and other antacids, but the only thing that's really kept at bay (besides eating a lot/often like rada said above, which for me led to more nausea from overeating) is unfiltered (a la Bragg's) apple cider vinegar. I took about a half shot a morning (sometimes literally out of a shotglass) chased with some water or diluted in it for a few months. Now if I feel acid stomach coming on I take a shot then, but I don't really take them every day anymore. My NP listened to my solution after years of struggle and said "Well, be careful of your teeth enamel but otherwise good for you."

Cutting out wheat and most grains helped a lot too, but before that ACV would save the day. There is some reasoning behind this involving your acid levels in your stomach and "balancing" them. I don't care about that, it just works.
posted by Lardmitten at 2:50 PM on June 18, 2014

Sorry for the multi-post, I meant to explain the reason why I brought up peptic ulcer disease despite it not being common - classically, duodenal ulcer pain is relieved by eating. Just something to ask your doctor about. I hope that you are able to get this successfully relieved and to enjoy some second trimester bliss! (boy, I wish I could say I aspired to an intense workout routine and wholesome eating in my second tri… props to you).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:50 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry, for me the nausea went away around week 16 but the stomach rot persisted until delivery (which, unmercifully, did not occur until closer to week 42). Reflux was a big part of it, so maybe focus on that.
posted by lydhre at 2:55 PM on June 18, 2014

I am 31 weeks pregnant. I did get a second trimester rebound, but it didn't align exactly with the end of the first trimester. I think I started feeling better/normal around 16 or even 18 weeks. I did rebound, but it was later than I thought it would be.
In the last 2-3 weeks, things have taken a turn for the worse- I'm hormonal/hot/hangry/tired/etc. And it will get worse from here. So things don't exactly align with the trimesters. There may still be hope!
posted by aabbbiee at 2:56 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not pregnant but I often I get a symptom I could describe as "stomach rot." It sounds like heartburn or possibly an ulcer.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:07 PM on June 18, 2014

umpth-ing reflux. I had a few months when I was chronically nauseous - no heartburn, and I scoffed when my mom suggested I try heartburn medication - but it went away within hours of taking zantac. I feel like an idiot that I struggled with it for so long.
posted by lilnublet at 3:09 PM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Reflux. With my first pregnancy garlic was the trigger and I had to stop eating it altogether AND take heartburn meds.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:11 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

You may be taking the papaya enzymes because it promotes peristalsis but, given your description, it may be helping because it provides digestive enzymes to help your stomach digest the food that feels like it is otherwise just sitting there and rotting. It is possible to buy non-prescription digestive enzymes and see if that helps. (My medical condition is routinely treated with prescription digestive enzymes. I have used papaya enzymes in the past as a substitute for digestive enzymes.)

Another thing that could be a factor: Dehydration. It can promote dry heaves and nausea. Your blood supply is supposed to double while pregnant. If you are not keeping up with the demand for fluids that this creates, it could be causing at least part of your symptoms.
posted by Michele in California at 3:12 PM on June 18, 2014

I had reflux during my first pregnancy that emerged pretty early into the second trimester. It was more like what you describe and less like the acid-barf in throat that I had thought reflux was. It looks like a lot of women here also have had the same experience, so perhaps it's worth it to check in with your care providers about trying some treatment for reflux to see if it helps any.

Personally, I think the second-trimester respite is a load of bunk. I had an awful first trimester, and then every week or two after that some new pregnancy malady presented itself, so basically I felt awful for nine months straight. Additionally, I was very fit and active for years before that pregnancy, and it was disappointing to be so unwell for so long. So don't be too hard on yourself if you don't end up having the pregnancy experience that you set out for. (I kept going back to the x-ray image of a pregnant kiwi bird and somehow that brought me comfort.)
posted by stowaway at 3:38 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Me too, and I tried most of all those same things to little effect. It was reflux which I am on a prescription for... I was burping stomach acid and then gagging on it. I have also intermittently taken probiotics, digestive enzymes, and/or half a senna tablet to keep things moving in an okay way. Papaya did not work for me; Mylanta did but the prescription is stronger/better. I can't remember what it is, but if you me mail me I can look it up. I started feeling better (not normal, just less bad) around 16 weeks, felt pretty normal from weeks 20-26 (still took meds though) and the last two weeks as baby crunches my organs the reflux is coming back despite the meds. For your sanity, note that morning sickness isn't just vomiting, doesn't only happen in the morning, and may or may not go away. Reading other accounts for humor and sympathy helped... Waiting for Birdy and Growing Eden have some good accounts of morning sickness.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:38 PM on June 18, 2014

Coconut water mixed with pear juice with ice and a straw. Some brands of coconut water made me want to gag, others were okay... Ymmv. Good luck! Me mail me if you want to commiserate. :)
posted by jrobin276 at 3:40 PM on June 18, 2014

Also... A spoonful of peanut butter. Sugar, salt, fat, calories and virtually no volume! It was enough to settle my stomach without the upset. Who knows....
posted by jrobin276 at 3:50 PM on June 18, 2014

Ask your doctor if you can take baking soda and water (just a pinch in 1/2 cup of water) safely, once in a while. That's the only thing that helped me get rid of what you call the stomach rot feeling. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to work its way through. Not all the time, and not every day, I agree you really need to talk to your doctor about this. My sister was miserable through much of her pregnancies and I had the first three months stuff and then regular discomfort. They did find a drug that worked for her but she was still not up to par. Hoping you feel better soon.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:55 PM on June 18, 2014

Sounds like reflux - take a look at the symptoms for GERD. Could be pregnancy-exacerbated rather than pregnancy-induced, which may be why you're not finding lots of info from the pregnancy people. I'd ask for a referral to a gastroenterologist.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:17 PM on June 18, 2014

Response by poster: My wife has some thanks and additional info:

Thank you everyone for these responses! I had never considered reflux because it doesn't present the way I've always thought of reflux, but I will pursue this with my OB/midwife. (And to answer that question, yes, I am also being seen by an OB - the midwives are CNMs, who work with him.)

I also hadn't considered an ulcer and will definitely look into that, as well as try apple cider vinegar and look into other (prescription) digestive enzymes.

To answer other questions, I have tried Tums with no relief (but as some said, perhaps if it is reflux, it needs something stronger).

One thing I forgot to add (in case it's relevant to someone's advice/experience) is that I have these loud, disgusting sounding (and feeling) belches, especially after meals. I've noticed that if I keep them in (like when I'm at work and it would be inappropriate), stomach rot is worse. I know that belching is not uncommon with pregnancy. It seems to me to be a sign of something going weird/foul with digestion, but I'm not sure what.

Hearing that other women experienced something similar makes me at least not feel alone. I think I need to just admit that I hate pregnancy (this one, at least) and try to adjust my expectations for it. Thanks again, everyone.

The "outcome" of digestion is fine (i.e., normal).
posted by univac at 4:19 PM on June 18, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, guys!

Pregnancy is THE WORST.
posted by univac at 4:21 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah double-Nthing-in-a-pike-position reflux or ulcery-acidy happenings. The burping is a dead giveaway when coupled with your other symptoms - heartburn and the like. Forget the Tums - tums for this is like trying to address an amputation with a bandaid. You need a h2 blocker like Xantac, Tagamet etc or even better a proton-pump-inhibitor like Zoton, Somac, Losec etc (there's gazillions).

The great thing about both these medications is they have very very few side-effects, counterindications, or unhealthy interactions with other medicines, they're reasonably cheap, and they are super effective. Talk to your doc about it, and good luck. My wife got bad reflux with both our kids (my knowledge comes from my own ulcery issues, though).
posted by smoke at 4:46 PM on June 18, 2014

With the belching, it is definitely reflux of some kind. I would try eating just the most basic of foods, avoiding things acidic or spicy, and I would recommend drinking a gentle tea (like peppermint or chamomile) and/or water that is not ice cold. Ice cold water felt good going down and then made everything churn up inside for me.

My symptoms were milder, but not dissimilar. I was fine with dietary changes. YMMV.
posted by zizzle at 4:59 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, Nthing that this sounds like reflux, and also that Tums are way too weak for pregnancy reflux. Talkto your OB and get a recommendation for a stronger OTC med. I don't remember which one I used, but better to check with OB in case one type is better in pregnancy than another.
posted by Joh at 5:04 PM on June 18, 2014

Just chiming into to say reflux, reflux. With my first pregnancy I went weeks and weeks feeling much the way you describe before my doc convinced me to try Prilosec. Miracle! Well, mostly---I eventually had to eliminate anything very strongly flavored or spicy, as I would end up tasting/feeling it all night despite the medication, especially in the last month or so I was pregnant. But I did feel much better overall. With my second pregnancy I recognized the symptoms practically as soon as I was pregnant and started the meds before I was even out of the first trimester. Neither Tums nor Xantact worked for me. I got the Costco-brand generic Prilosec in bulk, but was able to get it even more cheaply as a generic by prescription during my second pregnancy.

I also had a strategy of eating a bit of dairy (ice cream or yogurt) or something bland or before bed, so I wouldn't be plagued by my dinner all night.
posted by percolatrix at 5:18 PM on June 18, 2014

This is totally, totally, totally reflux. Tums won't do anything to help. Gaviscon or Zantac helped a bit in the short term but I found the generic of Nexium stopped the feeling of "stomach rot" after three days.
posted by saradarlin at 5:52 PM on June 18, 2014

Lying on your LEFT side may reduce reflux discomfort at night (less acid escapes into your esophagus that way due to the kinks in your digestive system). Propping your upper half up on pillows to sleep can also help keep the acid in your stomach. These are both easy, free, low-impact things she can try immediately that might help.

(I had pretty good luck with left-side lying, none with pillow-propping.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:55 PM on June 18, 2014

I have had a combination of reflux, mucus issues and what ended up as a ton of gallbladder issues throughout my pregnancy. It's hard not to call it morning sickness, although it did typically occur in the morning, but it didn't FEEL like nausea, you know? It just happened, particularly when I was showering or brushing my teeth (activating gag reflex).

Reflux is related to snot production in some way or another. Most definitely.

So do keep trying to eat less spicy foods and smaller meals. I often felt that plain water caused it to be worse, and that late afternoons got difficult -- as did waking up from an afternoon nap. (I take Reglan, Zofran, all that, as well as 300 mg of ranitidine/Zantac at bedtime.)

Keep gallstones in the back of your mind, too. If you have pain in your upper right quadrant, or in your back behind it, or in a "band" around your chest... don't rule it out.

One thing that I think has reduced the snot and/or morning issues is taking 50/100 mg of B6 at night together with 25 mg diphenhydramine (I've used Unisom and Zzzquil meltaways as well as Benadryl). Taking loratidine (Claritin) in the morning hasn't definitively helped one way or another.

Good luck! The first tri was rough, and I can't say the second was all rainbows and kittens, but aside from the crippling gallbladder pain I am surprised at how content I feel sometimes. Pregnancy is a messed up time, and I encourage you to recognize that, but I know you'll find some good times soon.
posted by Madamina at 7:35 PM on June 18, 2014

Yeah, the burping.... Totally reflux. It's so gross. Smoke's reply is spot on. My prescription is for rannitide. Tums, baking soda, etc all did nothing. I didn't recognise it as reflux either and was just sort of suffering through when I happened to mention it offhand to my OB who said oh I can FIX that! And handed me a prescription (sadly, she had no such cure for fatigue and sleepiness!).

I've had alternating mild bouts of constipation and uh... Loose movements. I use half a senna tablet for one, digestive enzymes for the other (mild warning).

The icky sludgy stomach feeling is usually a sign that I'm constipated. Getting stuff moving helps immensely. I will also say that I am pooping WAY more whilst pregnant, so the before-preg normal may not be the new normal. Your Body May Vary. I usually don't need anything drastic... Half dose is plenty. Also eating things that are easy to digest for a few meals... Lamb, rice, pears, baked potato... Or maybe adding a fiber tablet or something. Also, sleeping kinda propped up helps... You know, so gravity is draining stuff down...

Madmina's comment about snot being related is interesting as I've certainly had that too!
posted by jrobin276 at 8:10 PM on June 18, 2014

Pregnancy is THE WORST.

Yep! Don't feel bad for not enjoying pregnancy, sometimes it downright sucks! I had nausea, vomiting, heartburn, reflux, you name it. That feeling of "augh, will I ever feel well ever again???" made me want to cry for weeks and weeks. I finally began to feel a little better at 19 weeks with both my pregnancies, so maybe there's hope that the first trimester awfulness will end for you too. But yeah, there are some discomforts that truly go away when you give birth, so hang in there. I remember my sister having her first drink of water after her c-section and saying "whoa, I drank almost half the bottle without wanting to gag!". Yay pregnancy!
posted by CrazyLemonade at 8:39 PM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Pregnancy is awful and you are a hero for going through it. Seriously, having no baby inside me anymore was the best feeling in the world. It will be over and you WILL feel better. Promise!
posted by Omnomnom at 5:33 AM on June 19, 2014

I had terrible reflux when I was pregnant. At the time I was seeing a physio for a knee problem and he suggested I use a trigger ball (or a tennis ball) and put it under my third vertebrae (the big one at the junction of shoulders and spine) ... I could just push on the point and it would make me burp. I'm not advocating you try this without supervision (though I've now been doing it for years and I've never had a problem) but I've found that it gives great relief to the rotten feeling. Good luck ...
posted by bwonder2 at 1:57 PM on June 19, 2014

As a fellow pregnancy reflux sufferer (with the same stomach rot symptoms!), I'm seconding the advice to never, ever, ever sleep on your right side.

Pregnancy sucks.
posted by waterisfinite at 9:33 AM on June 21, 2014

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