Heartburn is one of the most common pregnancy symptoms. Often referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease, (GERD) it’s characterized by a burning feeling in the stomach, often accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth and an acid taste in the throat. It typically occurs after eating, and is caused by stomach acids rising into the esophagus, which runs through the chest close to the heart.
During pregnancy your body experiences hormonal changes, and your growing uterus size starts to put pressure on your stomach. It’s more likely to be an issue during the second and last trimester of pregnancy.
Luckily, there are many things that you can do to treat heartburn during pregnancy. In this blog, we will cover various tips and tricks that will help you manage your heartburn, prevent stomach acid from coming back up and keep your mind at ease.
Symptoms of indigestion and heartburn during pregnancy
Indigestion and heartburn are common in pregnancy. Heartburn is typically caused by the relaxation of the muscular valve (called the esophageal sphincter) between the stomach and esophagus due to the hormone progesterone, which allows stomach acid to pass into the esophagus and irritate the lining.
The most common symptoms are:
- burning or pain in the chest
- feeling full, heavy or bloated
- burping or belching
- feeling or being sick
- bringing up food
- a sour or bitter taste in the mouth
As the growing uterus puts pressure on the stomach, contents can also be pushed back up into the esophagus. You may experience vomiting or reflux (acid reflux) symptoms with continued heartburn.
Hormones can cause your stomach to become more sensitive, which in turn can make GERD symptoms worse. You may also experience indigestion if you consume a lot of acidic foods or beverages such as citrus fruits and juices, caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods, and smoking.
How do you treat heartburn during pregnancy?
The first and most common option for pregnancy heartburn relief is to use over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These medications can help relieve symptoms of heartburn and reduce acid reflux.
Another effective way to treat heartburn is by making dietary adjustments. Avoiding spicy and acidic foods can help control acid reflux. Eating smaller meals more frequently can also bring relief. Making lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, and exercising regularly can also be effective in controlling acid reflux.
In more severe cases, women can be prescribed medications designed for heartburn during pregnancy. These medications may include antacid tablets or gels that contain calcium or other bicarbonate salts, antacid tablets or gels that contain medicines such as Tagamet or Zantac, and antacid tablets or gels that contain histamine H2 receptor antagonists (H2 blockers).
If you feel a burning sensation that persists beyond the common discomforts of pregnancy, reach out to your doctor immediately.
What medications can I take for heartburn during pregnancy?
Heartburn is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux, or acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. Tums, Mylanta, and Maalox are all safe and effective heartburn treatments that can help reduce symptoms. Omeprazole is a safe and effective heartburn treatment that can be taken orally without worrying about side effects when pregnant.
It is important to use these medications correctly in order to avoid any potential side effects. Follow the instructions provided by your doctor or pharmacist carefully.
Natural remedies for heartburn relief during pregnancy
There are a few things you can do to natrually manage heartburn:
- Eat plenty of potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, oranges, potatoes, and beans
- Ginger can be used to treat nausea and heartburn, taken as a supplement, in a drink or in a tea form
- Over-the-counter antacids and alginates can also provide immediate relief from heartburn
- Make dietary and lifestyle changes can help ease indigestion and heartburn during pregnancy
- Eat slowly to reduce the stress on your digestive system
- Eat small meals instead of larger ones, and more frequent meals if possible
What causes heartburn during pregnancy?
Heartburn is caused by a combination of factors, including:
- Pregnancy hormones. These include progesterone, which relaxes the valve between the stomach and esophagus, allowing stomach acid to pass into the esophagus and irritate the lining. The hormones relaxin and progesterone also promote digestive slowdown, which allows foods to move more slowly through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and results in the burning pain.
- Eating fried foods, fatty foods or spicy foods. This can irritate the stomach or esophagus.
- Drinking caffeinated drinks, such as coffee and tea. Caffeine relaxes the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus, allowing acid to flow back up into the esophagus.
- Drinking warm drinks, including warm milk.
- Lying down after eating. Gravity can pull the stomach acid back up into the esophagus.
When does heartburn generally start during pregnancy?
Heartburn generally starts in the second or third trimester. This is because as your baby grows, it takes up more room in your abdomen and pushes against your stomach, which can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax and allow stomach acid to pass back into the esophagus. The hormone progesterone relaxes this same valve, further contributing to heartburn.
It’s important to note that even though heartburn is common during pregnancy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong with you or your baby. Heartburn does not have anything to do with the heart; it involves a burning sensation in the center of the chest.
Can I prevent heartburn during pregnancy?
Heartburn is a common stomach discomfort in pregnancy. Avoiding certain trigger foods like highly seasoned and spicy food, fried or fatty foods, processed meats, chocolate, caffeine, carbonated beverages, mint and citrus can help prevent symptoms. Also avoid eating or drinking for 3 hours before bedtime as this will help keep stomach acid level balanced. Staying upright for at least one hour after meals also helps in preventing acid reflux and nausea.
Drinking fluids between meals instead of with them can also help prevent acid reflux as water absorbs the excess stomach acid. It is recommended that women undergoing pregnancy undergo regular antenatal healthcare checkups to monitor their health and identify any possible problems early. Following the guidelines of preventive measures and soothing strategies can help reduce the chances of heartburn.
When can I expect the heartburn to end during pregnancy?
If you don’t otherwise experience heartburn symptoms, they should clear up shortly after you give birth. It’s important to note that heartburn doesn’t usually present a serious health risk for pregnant women; it’s more of an annoyance than anything else. It’s important to monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention if heartburn persists or worsens.
Can heartburn hurt my unborn baby?
Heartburn is common and does not cause any harm to your baby, though it’s unpleasant for you as the mother. In extreme cases, however, it can cause problems like altered pH levels in the esophagus or stomach acid entering the lungs, which could see you need more serious medical attention If you experience severe or frequent symptoms during pregnancy, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce symptoms and help keep your baby safe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any side effects from taking these medications for heartburn relief during pregnancy?
When taking acid reducing medications during pregnancy, there are side effects to be aware of.
- Antacids contain calcium and magnesium which can be harmful to both the mother and baby if taken in large quantities.
- Omeprazole is a PPI medication commonly used for acid reflux symptoms, but has been linked to preterm labor in some cases.
- Iron supplements and antacids taken together can reduce iron absorption from the stomach.
- GERD is associated with heightened levels of nausea and vomiting, so monitoring symptoms closely is recommended.
- The FDA recently stopped sales of an H2 blocker called ranitidine due to contamination with a cancer-causing agent, so please consult your healthcare provider before taking these medications.
Which antacids can I take?
If you are pregnant and experiencing heartburn and indigestion, antacids can be taken to help relieve the symptoms.
Tums (calcium carbonate) antacid is considered safe during pregnancy, but other OTC antacids such as aluminum, magnesium and bicarbonate-containing antacids, should be avoided.
It is important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any antacid, but generally it’s recommended to take an antacid with food or before bedtime. Additionally, you should not exceed daily doses of 1.4g of elemental calcium (obtained from calcium carbonate). Exceeding this amount can be harmful.
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