If you’re an expecting mum, or thinking about trying to get pregnant, you may be feeling nervous about heartburn during pregnancy.
It’s true that this particular pregnancy symptom can be especially uncomfortable and persistent, but it’s also possible to keep it under control.
Here you’ll find everything you need to know about what causes heartburn during pregnancy, as well as how to prevent it from ruining the nine months of your pregnancy!
What is heartburn and why does it happen during pregnancy?
Most people have experienced heartburn at some point in their lives. It’s that burning, irritating, uncomfortable feeling in your throat, neck and chest. It happens when, for some reason, excess digestive fluids, which are highly acidic, creep their way up beyond the sphincter that separates your oesophagus and stomach.
What causes pregnancy heartburn is those awful hormones! One of their side effects is the relaxation of muscles all along your digestive tract, including the one that normally keeps the acid locked down below your oesophagus. Because it is too relaxed, it doesn’t do a good job of keeping acid out.
While heartburn in pregnancy can begin very early on, get ready for the worst of it around 30 weeks pregnant, as the size of your uterus pushes your stomach closer to your oesophagus than ever!
Is heartburn during pregnancy dangerous?
All types of indigestion during pregnancy, including heartburn, are very normal. Almost all pregnant women will experience heartburn at some point before giving birth. With that said, you should know that it is no cause for concern. It doesn’t pose any health risk for you or the baby, despite being very uncomfortable.
How to find relief
Unlike many other discomforts or health problems during pregnancy, heartburn is actually pretty treatable. You may be able to prevent or soothe the pain in the following ways:
- Take medication – Typically, heartburn-blocking medicines like H2 blockers or proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) are safe for women to take while pregnant. Talk to your doctor, though, before you decide to take anything.
- Use tablets – Calcium-based tablets like Tums and Rolaids are great for short-term heartburn relief, particularly after eating. What’s more, they’ll provide your body with some extra calcium, which is great for you and the baby!
- Try holistic remedies – Some women don’t want to take medication while pregnant, and that’s just fine. Some foods like almonds, dairy, honey, bananas and ripe papaya have a reputation for helping calm heartburn.
- Avoid certain foods – While some foods will help, others will probably make the problem worse. Some things that you may want to remove from your menu are citrus fruits, spicy foods, very greasy or fried foods, and caffeine, which worsen heartburn during pregnancy.
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day – This is a great idea during pregnancy anyway, as it will also help you feel energized and maintain blood sugar levels. But it also helps keep all those stomach acids at bay.
- Chew more than ever – In addition to smaller meals, try working with smaller bites. And then chew, and chew and chew some more before you swallow! The more digested your food is before it reaches your stomach, the less work your digestive fluids have to do.
- Change the timing – Not only should you eat more often during the day, but you should also be careful to not eat too close to bedtime. That counts for naptime too! Try not to eat within two hours before hitting the hay, as it’s more difficult for your body to digest while you’re sleeping and you’ll most likely feel the burn when you wake up.
- Check your position – It’s also harder for your body to digest when in a horizontal position. So even if you’re not planning to fall asleep, don’t lie down until a couple of hours after eating either. You may also find it helpful to sleep propped up on pillows instead of completely flat. Good posture while eating will also help everything go down and stay down!
- Ditch the skinny jeans – Believe it or not, your clothes can affect heartburn symptoms. As if you really needed an excuse to put on comfy, loose clothing, now you know that wearing tight clothes can make heartburn during pregnancy worse!
- Get moving – Some light activity after eating is a great way to aid digestion. Be careful not to overexert yourself, though, which can be counterproductive. Try going out for an easy stroll after a meal to help the food settle into your stomach.
- Think when you drink – Not alcohol, obviously! You already know to avoid that. But drinking water or other beverages during a meal can actually make heartburn worse. When the food and liquid mix together in your stomach, it causes the acids to flare up. So the best thing to do is drink a few minutes before and a few minutes after a meal.
- Try chewing on some gum – This is a quick trick not only for heartburn during pregnancy, but also for nausea. It increases your body’s saliva production, which can counteract with the acid and even reduce queasiness.
- Give up smoking – If knowing that smoking is bad for your baby’s health wasn’t enough motivation to quit, you should also know that it can make heartburn during pregnancy even worse.
- Keep your weight under control – While all women will (and should!) gain some weight during pregnancy, try not to let the pounds come on unchecked. Extra weight puts additional pressure on your digestive system, worsening heartburn.
If you are consistently having heartburn more than 3 times per week, haven’t been able to find relief after two weeks of treatment, or the problem persists after giving birth, you may have a medical condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This would require medical treatment and lifestyle changes, so if you think you have it, talk to your doctor.