How to ease heartburn during pregnancy

Indigestion is common in second and third trimesters, but there’s relief

pregnant woman holding pickles and a sandwich next to her belly

Chances are good that you’re one of many pregnant people who experience the churning and burning of heartburn or acid indigestion. It typically hits somewhere in the second or third trimester, and it can be miserable.

There are ways to find relief from the discomfort of heartburn.

What is heartburn during pregnancy?

Heartburn doesn’t really mean your heart is burning, but it’s a good description of the pain that begins behind the breastbone. It then moves upward to the neck and throat.

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Officially, heartburn is known as gastroesophageal reflux, when acidic stomach juices or food and fluids back up into the esophagus. This is a hollow muscular tube between your mouth and your stomach.

Many women who have heartburn during pregnancy have never had that problem before. Unfortunately, if you had heartburn before becoming pregnant, you’re more likely to have symptoms while you are pregnant.

What causes pregnancy heartburn?

Although the exact causes of this heartburn aren’t clear, most experts believe that pregnancy hormones, particularly progesterone, play a role.

Hormones cause relaxation of the esophageal sphincter, which is a tight circular band of muscle at the top of the stomach. This allows partially digested food and stomach acids to backflow, or reflux, into the esophagus. In addition, progesterone also slows the digestive process. This keeps food in the stomach longer.

The pregnancy itself — the upward pressure of the growing uterus — also may play a role.

These can make your heartburn worse:

  • Most spicy, greasy or fatty foods
  • Eating large meals or overeating
  • Eating right before bedtime
  • Smoking makes heartburn worse and is another reason to quit, especially while pregnant

What can relieve heartburn?

For most people, things that help reduce acid production or prevent reflux can help them avoid the discomfort of heartburn.

Here are tips that may help:

  • Avoid classic spicy foods, as well as those with lots of fat or grease. Many people recommend avoiding citrus and chocolate, as well.
  • Eat multiple, small meals spread throughout the day instead of three big meals.
  • Try elevating the head of your bed by several inches and wait a while after eating before lying down.
  • Some people find that it’s better to drink fluids between meals. Drinking with a meal can increase the amount of contents in the stomach.

If your symptoms do not improve after the above recommended diet and lifestyle changes are in place, talk with your health care provider about over-the-counter medicines.

Antacids are available as chewable tablets and liquids. They work by coating the lining of the esophagus and stomach and neutralizing stomach acid.

Heartburn medicines like H2-blockers or proton-pump inhibitors work by reducing the amount of acid made by your stomach.

All of these medications are safe in pregnancy, including in the first trimester. Many people with nausea and vomiting early in pregnancy can also experience benefits to acid suppression as well.

When will it end?

Fortunately, heartburn usually ends with the birth of your baby and your body goes back to its non-pregnant state.

Heartburn symptoms are usually mild and manageable. Tell your health care provider if your heartburn is severe or if you spit up blood or have dark-colored bowel movements.

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Posted In Digestive Health, Health Information, Pregnancy, Women's