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Heartburn (also called “acid reflux” or “gastroesophageal reflux”) is a common pregnancy symptom that can be quite a nuisance when you’re expecting. Over 50 percent of all pregnant women will suffer from severe heartburn in pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters. (But heartburn can also strike in early pregnancy – the first trimester.) Heartburn can range from mild to severe, and it’s usually never a sign of a serious problem. It’s just a pregnancy symptom you must struggle with when you’re carrying a bun in the oven.
When you have heartburn, it feels like a horrible burning sensation in your chest that occurs after eating. The burning, irritated sensation can come from the bottom of your breastbone to your lower throat. It’s uncomfortable, and it can be hard to deal with.
What Causes Heartburn in Pregnancy?
You can blame the hormone progesterone for this uncomfortable pregnancy symptom. During pregnancy, this hormone is responsible for relaxing the smooth muscle of your uterus, and it also relaxes the valve that divides the stomach from your esophagus. As an unfortunate consequence, it’s easier for gastric acid in your stomach to seep back up into your esophagus – leading to the uncomfortable burning sensation of heartburn.
Even if you’ve never experienced heartburn before, you’re not immune to the hormonal changes that occur in pregnancy. Many women will experience heartburn for the first time when pregnant.
Hormonal changes contribute to the development of heartburn in early pregnancy, but the physical changes in your body also make this pregnancy symptom more problematic later in pregnancy. As your baby grows larger, the uterus will crowd the abdominal cavity, making it even more likely for stomach acid t go back up into the esophagus.
For many women, heartburn, bloating, gas, indigestion, and other gastrointestinal discomforts occur more frequently in the second half of pregnancy. (Keep in mind – it also occurs in early pregnancy for some women. Pregnancy symptoms vary from woman to woman.) Fortunately, in most cases, heartburn will come and go until your baby is delivered.
Remedies for Heartburn in Pregnancy
While it would be amazing to go through pregnancy with no heartburn at all, this isn’t a reality. But take heart – there are a number of preventative measures that you can try out to minimize your risk of heartburn, and to get relief from heartburn when it inevitably strikes.
Avoid eating big meals – Eat smaller meals throughout the day, and make sure that you chew your food thoroughly. This will make it easier for your digestive system, and this will relieve heartburn (or at least minimize it), and it will reduce gas and bloating, too.
Stay away from food triggers – If you’re having bad heartburn, or you want to prevent heartburn in pregnancy, it’s smart to stay away from foods and beverages that trigger this symptom. Common food culprits include carbonated drinks, caffeine and chocolate, acidic foods (like oranges, tomatoes, and citrus juices), fattening foods, spicy foods, and processed meats.
Chew some gum – Chewing gum can introduce too much gas in your system, leading to gas and bloating. But on the other hand, if you’re having awful heartburn, try chewing some gum after you eat. Chewing gum causes you to produce more saliva, and saliva contains bicarbonate, which will neutralize stomach acid and give you some relief from heartburn.
Don’t eat right before you go to bed – Your body needs time to digest your meals, so don’t eat immediately before bed. Your last meal should be two or three hours prior to bedtime.
Sleep elevated with pillows propping your head up – When you keep your head and upper body elevated (whether with several pillows underneath you or a wedge pillow), this allows your stomach acids to stay where they below and not accidentally move up into the esophagus.
Talk to your healthcare provider about safe antacids – If you’re having a normal pregnancy, it’s generally safe to take an over-the-counter antacid that contains calcium or magnesium to get relief from heartburn. However, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor or caregiver about his suggestions. Some brands are high in sodium, or they contain aluminum or aspirin. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.