Heartburn during pregnancy is not uncommon. Symptoms can begin late in the first trimester and tend to get more intense later in the pregnancy due to the larger uterus size. Factors such as a growing uterus and circulating progesterone could be contributing to feeling the burning discomfort. There are, however, safe ways pregnant women can manage this condition.
Heartburn during pregnancy is common and can result from hormones and the growing uterus.
There are safe alternatives while pregnant to relieve heartburn, such as lifestyle modifications.
Having heartburn while pregnant does not harm the fetus; however, it can affect the quality of life for pregnant women.
Typically, a well-functioning valve prevents food and liquids (including your stomach acid) from returning to the esophagus after being in the stomach. Thanks to the increased level of progesterone, that valve can become lazy and allow the backflow of the stomach contents into the esophagus, irritating the lining and causing that burning sensation in the center of the chest.
The progesterone levels also cause gastric motility or the rate at which food and liquids pass through the digestive tract, to become slower. More food in your stomach for digestion increases your risk of having some of it coming back the wrong way.
The growing uterus expanding to make room for the fetus could contribute to creating heartburn. This expansion causes more pressure in your abdomen and all its contents, including the stomach.
Safe ways to relieve heartburn
The good news is that there are ways to get heartburn relief that is safe during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and start to develop discomfort associated with heartburn, give these home remedies a try:
- Eat smaller and more frequently. Eating about five or six smaller meals throughout the day, rather than three large meals, will help to keep your stomach less full. If there are fewer stomach contents present, there are less likely to be stomach contents that go back into the esophagus.
- Elevate the head of your bed. Elevate the head of your bed by putting a few pillows underneath you to keep yourself propped up. This action will help decrease the pressure of the uterus on your abdomen and help with digestion.
- Chew on some gum. Grab yourself some gum and get to chewing. Chewing gum will help stimulate salivary glands in your mouth, which can help to make the stomach acid more neutral and less acidic.
- Try coating the lining. Give your esophagus and stomach extra protection, and coat it with milk or honey to ease the pain. Ensure you are consuming nonfat dairy to prevent aggravating your symptoms (from the fat in milk).
- Incorporate some ginger into your life. This powerful herb can help speed up digestion, so there are fewer contents in your stomach. Plus, it is known to help with nausea, so if you're experiencing that symptom, you get a two-for-one in symptom control.
- Avoid eating and then sleeping. If you can avoid lying down after you eat, then that is best. Try not to eat late at night so your body has time to metabolize the day's intake. Waiting about three hours before heading to bed for the night after you have eaten is ideal because this will help to ensure your belly has time to digest anything consumed.
- Sleep on your left side. Place a pillow behind your back and one between your knees while sleeping on your left side. Research suggests that sleeping on the left side may help to reduce acid reflux at night. When sleeping on the right side, there is more exposure time to stomach acids due to how the stomach is shaped and positioned relative to the esophagus. Lie on your left side to help reduce acid exposure to your esophagus.
Finding safe heartburn relief can be challenging during pregnancy, and lifestyle modifications are usually the first step. There are medications you can try to relieve heartburn as a pregnant woman; however, discussing them with your doctor is best because some are unsafe for the fetus.
What makes heartburn worse
Try to avoid triggers of heartburn in the first place. Keep a log of foods that cause or increase heartburn to discuss with your doctor. It would be best to steer clear of certain foods and drinks to keep heartburn at bay.
Some foods will cause the valve from the esophagus to the stomach to be more relaxed, letting stomach contents go back the wrong way. Others take longer to metabolize or break down, leaving the chances of them sitting in the stomach longer.
These foods and drinks might make your heartburn worse:
- Acidic foods/beverages (orange juice, tomatoes, etc.);
- Spicy foods;
- Foods that are high in fat content;
- Foods that are high in carbohydrates;
- Carbonated beverages.
Can it be harmful to the baby
The good news is that it is uncommon for there to be any harm to the baby when you have heartburn during pregnancy, and most of the time, the condition will resolve once the baby is born. It's more problematic for the mother because it can affect sleep quality and nutritional intake.
Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing heartburn that is not relieved by these simple measures. Just because the discomfort may go away after the baby is born is no reason to put up with it, and getting relief will help you enjoy the pregnancy experience. Usually, even when pregnant, you can safely manage heartburn by tweaking small habits.