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Pregnancy heartburn – causes and tips to ease your pain

Pregnant woman drinking milk to ease heartburn and indigestioinPregnancy isn’t always a smooth ride.

You can suffer through many different pregnancy complaints and ailments from morning sickness to back pain to incontinence and so, so many more.

One of these is acid reflux – more commonly known as heartburn – and while it is not necessarily a serious condition, it can definitely be a huge pain for a pregnant mother.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is when the food or drink you’ve recently consumed comes back up the oesophagus (food pipe) when it’s not supposed to. It can come up just a little way, or even right up to your mouth again – and it can either be just some stomach acid or bits of partially digested food.

What causes heartburn?

There is a valve at the end of your oesophagus that normally keeps everything down where it should be, but when this becomes damaged or loose, little bits can get back up.

For pregnancy heartburn, the most common cause is the hormone progesterone. This hormone is designed to relax your muscles and ligaments in order to allow your body to grow and change as your baby grows. It helps with labour and childbirth too. The problem is, this hormone works on your whole body, to some degree – so the valve between your oesophagus and stomach relaxes somewhat too.

The other reason this is prevalent in pregnancy is because your baby gets bigger and pushes your other organs aside. As your pregnancy progresses and baby grows, the digestive tract is pushed up and has a lot of pressure put on it – same as all your other organs. With this pressure, some acid or food can leak back through the valve and cause your heartburn.

What are the symptoms of heartburn?

You will experience a burning sensation in your chest as the acid or food comes back up. What you feel occurs in the oesophagus – but it is near enough to your heart for it to be called heartburn even though it has nothing to do with your heart. Oesophagus-burn is a bit of mouthful, though.

You may feel a bit of “stuff” come up at the back of your throat if it gets that far, but most commonly it is just the burning sensation – which can be quite intense.

How can you stop heartburn?

There are a few simple steps you can take to relieve the symptoms of heartburn that are fairly easy to do in your general life. You can:

Avoid trigger foods

Sometimes, certain foods can trigger a bout of heartburn or make your symptoms worse – these include fatty foods, chocolate, coffee, cola drinks, and alcohol. You may find you have certain trigger foods that others don’t, and might not have trigger foods at all. To find what foods are okay, and what aren’t, try an elimination diet. This is where you eliminate certain foods, one by one, to see if your symptoms get better or worse – you add them back into your diet if it’s okay, or stop eating it until your baby is born otherwise.

Eat in moderation

The more you eat in one sitting, the more pressure there is on your digestive tract. If you eat smaller meals and snacks, there will be less food in your stomach and less pressure on that valve to keep everything in. Eating slowly helps too.

Use gravity to your advantage

Sitting and sleeping in a more upright position will help keep that acid and food where it should be. Use a few extra pillows on your bed at night, and try to keep as upright as you can on the couch or anywhere else you sit.

Try to keep your weight down

This doesn’t mean to stop yourself gaining anything – your baby weighs something! But the more weight you are carrying, the more pressure there is on your body and organs. Try to keep within the recommended weight range and seek help from your doctor if you are concerned.

There is medication you can take

Try an antacid to help keep symptoms at bay if the above tips don’t work. Check with your pharmacist for the best medication to take during pregnancy.

Tips from mums

We found a few helpful hints to relieve heartburn on the Bub Hub Community Forum:

  • Fruit Tingles – the lolly not the drink!
  • a glass of milk – drunk slowly!
  • eating apples
  • chewing on ice cubes
  • drink peppermint tea after meals to help digestion
  • eat a handful of almonds

Most cases of pregnancy heartburn are mild and mostly an irritating inconvenience that you can control and get relief from. If your heartburn is causing you too much grief, or you can’t find anything to relieve the symptoms, seek help from your health care practitioner.

 Image credit: evgenyatamanenko/123RF Stock Photo

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2 comments so far -

  1. I’m 16 weeks pregnant and have gastric reflux every day so have been using either Gaviscon and Mylanta. Sometimes I take them twice a day. I can’t see it getting better as the pregnancy goes on either. Is it safe to use these on an ongoing, daily basis?

    • Hi mima38 and congrats on your pregnancy! We are only able to offer general advice as we are not health care professionals. You should talk to your GP/OB/midwife about the ongoing use of these products.

      Hopefully the indigestion isn’t always an issue for you during pregnancy. Make sure you take preventative measures and try the tips above! Hopefully it settles down for you soon! Take care xx

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