Whenever I speak to groups of women and ask what questions they might have for me, the subject of heartburn always comes up. The vast majority of women suffer from this at some point during pregnancy. I myself suffered with it terribly during all 3 of my pregnancies. In this post I have attempted to answer the most common questions I get.
Questions answered in this post:
- After eating, I feel burning in my chest and throat. Is it heartburn?
- Why do we get heartburn during pregnancy?
- When will it stop?
- Are there natural remedies I can try to alleviate symptoms?
- What other treatments are available for heartburn in pregnancy?
- Could my heartburn be indicating something more serious?
Most likely, yes, as 8 out of 10 women develop heartburn at some point during the pregnancy. For many, this is the first time they’ve ever experienced heartburn. While usually harmless, it can be painful.
Typically, heartburn manifests as a burning sensation that extends from your breastbone up through your lower throat. This is caused by acid from your stomach coming up into your esophagus (gullet). Sometimes the acid can go all the way up your throat, leaving a bitter or sour taste.
Heartburn is often caused by hormonal and physical changes that take place in your body during pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, your body produces more of the hormone progesterone. This hormone relaxes the smooth muscles of your uterus. Some experts believe that this hormone also relaxes the valve that separates your esophagus from your stomach. By relaxing this valve, more gastric acids back up into your esophagus causing a burning sensation (i.e., heartburn).
Increased progesterone can also slow down your digestion, allowing food to reside in the stomach longer and requiring more acid to digest.
It is important to remember that your baby is growing and pushing on your intestines and stomach, not only making everything smaller but also pushing everything up towards your esophagus. This too can make heartburn worse during pregnancy.
As I mentioned earlier, heartburn is very common when you’re pregnant, particularly in the later stages. Many moms never show any signs of heartburn until well into the second half of the pregnancy; however, it is not unheard of to get it before then. The good news, though, is that the symptoms typically disappear once you give birth.
There are lots of natural remedies for heartburn. You may not be able to avoid it entirely, but here some tips that may give you some relief:.
- Choose food and drinks that are easy to digest. Skip rich, high-fat, or spicy foods, as well as citrus fruits and juices. Chocolate, alcohol, and coffee can also be hard to digest.
- Eat smaller meals more often.
- If you smoke, stop! Not only because of the obvious dangers to your baby but also because smoking relaxes the valve between your stomach and esophagus making heartburn more likely.
- Watch your posture, slumping, and bending over can make heartburn symptoms worse. Try sitting up straight and staying upright, especially after eating.
- Heartburn is often worse at night and frequently flares up while sleeping. To minimize this, try not to eat or drink anything for three hours before bedtime. If your heartburn continues to flare up while you’re sleeping, try raising the head of your bed by 4 to 6 inches to see if gravity helps. Some people achieve the same effect just using pillows.
- Drink 4 to 6 ounces of water mixed with a quarter teaspoon of baking soda. This remedy can provide temporary relief from heartburn and acid indigestion.
- Don’t drink with meals, as this causes food to float to the top of your stomach, further slowing digestion.
Some medications can make heartburn worse, such as antidepressants and anti-inflammatory drugs. Check with your medical professional if you are taking any medications and your heartburn is getting worse.
There are many over-the-counter antacids and medications they can give you for some relief from heartburn. However, it is very important to check with your medical professional before you start using these as some of them can be unsafe during pregnancy.
Certain over-the-counter heartburn remedies are best avoided if you have high blood pressure or preeclampsia. Again, ask your medical professional before proceeding on your own. If you do take over-the-counter antacids and medication, it is important not to exceed the recommended doses.
In addition, the timing of when you take over-the-counter medication can be just as important as what you take. If you have nighttime heartburn or suffer after meals, time your medication to be taken either just before bedtime or just after meals.
Also, do not take heartburn medication at the same time as your multivitamins or iron tablets. Antacids can interfere with iron absorption, so make sure you take them at least two hours before or after your supplements.
Contact your medical professional if none of these treatments helps with your symptoms. They may be able to suggest alternative courses of action.
It’s hard to fully diagnose something in an article like this. The short answer is that it depends on where the pain is and what other symptoms you are having.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Typically, heartburn travels from behind your breastbone to your throat. If you are having a sharp pain located at the top of your stomach below your ribs, it could be a sign of preeclampsia.
- If your pain is on the upper right side of your stomach and you’re feeling sick, it may be an indication of a liver problem related to your pregnancy.
- It is always possible you may have a digestive problem unrelated to pregnancy such as a peptic ulcer.
With any of these symptoms, please talk to a medical professional if you are in doubt. Additionally, if you are losing weight, finding it difficult to eat, or you are worried about other symptoms, again, please talk to your medical professional.