Managing Heartburn During Pregnancy
Whilst pregnancy is an exciting time, there are some side effects that can be particularly uncomfortable. One of these is heartburn or indigestion.
So how can you manage heartburn during pregnancy?
Heartburn or indigestion is caused by acid reflux. This happens when acid from your stomach is forced back up into the oesophagus (also known as the food pipe). This can happen as a result of the valve between your stomach and food pipe not working properly, or becoming weak so that it opens more easily.
Symptoms of Pregnancy Heartburn
Symptoms of heartburn typically begin soon after eating and drinking, but they can be delayed. Symptoms include:
• A burning feeling or pain in the upper chest or throat
• Feeling uncomfortably full during or after a meal
• Burping or bloating
• Feeling or being sick
• Noticing an acidic taste in your mouth
Why Is Heartburn Common During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy hormone levels in your body fluctuate, and this includes an increase in progesterone, a type of sex hormone, and also relaxin, which allows the ligaments in your pelvis to stretch. The side effect of an increase in these hormones is that they allow the valve between your stomach and food pipe to relax. This allows stomach acid to re-enter the food-pipe a little more easily, triggering heartburn.
Later in pregnancy, the weight of your growing baby and uterus can mean there is more pressure against your stomach, which further opens the valve.
Whilst heartburn is extremely uncomfortable, it is not normally dangerous to you or your baby.
However, if you are experiencing heartburn on an ongoing basis, chat with your doctor as they may be able to support you with specialised advice.
Tips and Advice to Ease Heartburn and Indigestion
Although you can’t stop pregnancy associated changes that can trigger heartburn, there are a few lifestyle and routine changes that might help you manage it.
Be Mindful with Meals
Some women find that pregnancy hormones can make them feel hungrier than normal, but try to avoid overeating as this can aggravate indigestion.
Change Your Eating Routine
Some people find that eating several smaller meals rather than three large meals is helpful in managing heartburn. It can also be helpful to avoid eating or drinking within 3 hours of bedtime or late at night, to give your stomach time to empty before you lay down to sleep.
Monitor and Avoid Triggers
Keep a food diary to find out which foods trigger your heartburn and avoid these foods. Popular triggers include coffee, tea, chocolate and other caffeinated drinks as caffeine can relax the valve between the stomach and food pipe. Caffeinated drinks may also stimulate acid production.
Another tip is to limit or avoid fried, greasy, or fatty foods as they take longer to digest, which means food stays in your stomach for longer. This increases the pressure on the valve between the stomach and food pipe.
Many people with heartburn report that tomatoes and tomato-based products, citrus fruit, juices and spicy foods make their heartburn worse. If you notice a link, try cutting down.
Try to avoid lying down after meals and sit up whilst eating. If you need to lay down, raise the head of your bed by 10 or 15cm or sleep propped up on lots of pillows – this will help prevent stomach acid being pushed into your food pipe and throat whilst you sleep.
Smoking can cause indigestion as the chemicals in cigarettes and e-smoking devices relax the muscles around your food pipe and stomach and allow stomach acid to be forced up more easily. Smoking also affects your saliva which protects against stomach acid and stimulates stomach acid production. Smoking also negatively affects yours and your baby’s health.
Alcohol can relax the valve between the stomach and food pipe, allowing the stomach contents into the food pipe. Some alcoholic drinks also increase the production of stomach acid, aggravating heartburn. The safest approach is to avoid alcohol altogether during pregnancy.
Any medication can cause heartburn and some combinations are more likely to cause heartburn. Do speak to your midwife or doctor if you are experiencing regular issues after taking medication whilst pregnant.
Some pregnant women have found acupuncture helps with reducing heartburn symptoms, allowing them to sleep better. Acupuncture is safe during pregnancy, but do tell your practitioner that you’re pregnant, as some points should be avoided during this time.