How To Treat Heartburn During Pregnancy
It's yet another uncomfortable part of pregnancy but there are strategies that can help.
Heartburn during pregnancy is very common, varying in intensity from being only mild to very uncomfortable. Around 30-50 percent of pregnant women will experience pregnancy heartburn, which tends to become worse as the due date becomes closer.
Generally, heartburn features more during the second and third trimesters as the uterus gets larger. Women who are older, who’ve had a baby before and who’ve experienced pre-pregnancy heartburn are more at risk of having pregnancy heartburn. Gaining a lot of weight during pregnancy also means it is more likely.
Some women experience just mild discomfort after some meals and others can feel an intense burning sensation in their upper chest.
The best way to get rid of heartburn when pregnant, you ask? First, you should know that pregnancy heartburn can often be managed by a few simple strategies and although it may not go away completely, the symptoms can be reduced.
Call an ambulance if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, pain radiating down your arm, in your jaw or any other worrying symptoms.
What is heartburn?
Despite its name, true heartburn does not have anything to do with the heart but everything to do with the stomach. And because both of these organs are close together, heartburn can feel as if there’s something also going on with the heart.
Heartburn can be described as a burning sensation behind the sternum (breastbone). Sometimes reflux happens at the same time – where the acidic stomach contents come up the oesophagus (food pipe) and burn the lining. Reflux feels like a burning sensation at the back of the throat, often causing an acidic, bitter taste in the mouth.
What causes pregnancy heartburn?
Blame those pregnancy hormones, again, specifically progesterone. Although hormones play an important role in relaxing the muscles and ligaments of the pelvic floor to help with childbirth, the effect of the hormones is not limited. The valve at the top of the stomach also becomes more relaxed, allowing the stomach contents to escape and backflow into the oesophagus. Progesterone also slows down digestion, so the stomach does not empty as quickly.
The lining of the stomach is designed to cope with the acid and digestive juices, however, the food pipe is not. This is what causes the sense of burning, indigestion and discomfort which are all common symptoms of heartburn.
Another cause for heartburn is the size of the uterus causes increased pressure in the mother’s abdomen, so her stomach doesn’t have as much room to expand.
The best way to get rid of heartburn when pregnant: 10 tips for relief
You may not be able to prevent or relieve heartburn altogether, though with a few tweaks of your diet and lifestyle, you should be able to manage its severity.
- Try to eat smaller meals, more often, than large infrequent meals.
- Avoid spicy, oily, fatty or strong flavoured foods. Chill and curry-based foods are common culprits.
- Avoid eating late at night and aim for a two hour (minimum) window of time between your last meal and when you go to bed.
- Try not to lie flat, or go to sleep straight after eating. Sit upright so gravity helps your food to stay down.
- Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol or taking medications which may increase heartburn symptoms e.g. anticholinergics (drugs which block the action of nerve impulses).
- Avoid eating acidic type foods. Tomatoes and citrus fruits can cause heartburn to be worse.
- Cut back or cut out caffeine. Coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks are all sources.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothes which don’t restrict your tummy. Elasticized pants are a good option. And make sure your maternity bras aren’t cutting into your skin underneath and between your breasts.
- Sleep on a couple of pillows if you can. Some women find that elevating the head of the bed by 10-15 cms makes a big difference.
- Experiment with the best timing of drinking fluids. Many women find that drinking water with meals causes them to feel uncomfortably full.
- Drinking between meals may be a better option.
What’s safe to take for pregnancy heartburn?
- Antacids are generally effective in neutralizing the stomach acid and relieving heartburn symptoms. They come in tablet form, including chewable options as well as liquid. Speak with your maternity care provider and/or pharmacist about medication which is safe for you to take during pregnancy.
- Eating a few almonds can be effective for some women.
- Some women find that drinking milk or eating yoghurt is helpful in relieving heartburn.
Speak with your maternity care provider if you are worried about anything during your pregnancy.
Jane Barry has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 30 years specialist experience in child health nursing. She is a member of a number of professionally affiliated organisations including AHPRA, The Australasian Medical Writer’s Association, Health Writer Hub and Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses.
This article was first published in KidSpot and republished on theAsianparent with permission.
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