Though you may not have ever experienced it before, heartburn during pregnancy is very common, especially during the third trimester, when the uterus has expanded and is putting pressure on the stomach and intestines.
So what is heartburn? Also called gastro-esophageal reflux, heartburn is a condition that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus (throat), causing a burning feeling in the chest. Normally, the valve between the stomach and the esophagus helps prevent this from happening, but during pregnancy, progesterone causes relaxation of smooth muscle – all smooth muscle, including the muscle tissue in this valve. This makes it easier for the stomach acid to flow backwards (reflux). It doesn’t pose a risk to you or the baby, but it can be very uncomfortable and annoying.
Minimize your chances of experiencing heartburn
You might not be able to totally prevent heartburn during pregnancy, but there are ways to minimize your risk. If you’re still smoking cigarettes, here’s one more reason to quit: smokers are more likely to get heartburn. Keeping your weight gain in a typical range can also help, as excess weight increases the likelihood of developing heartburn. Certain foods and drinks are more likely to cause heartburn: caffeine, citrus drinks, spicy food, and greasy food. Avoiding or minimizing these can reduce the chances of getting heartburn. Remember to eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. Eating smaller meals throughout the day, instead of 3 larger meals, can also reduce the likelihood of triggering heartburn. After meals, try not to lay down for a few hours, and when you do go to sleep, many women find that sleeping on a few pillows can help – when your head is elevated, the gastric juices aren’t flowing directly backward.
Managing heartburn during pregnancy
Don’t worry, though – if you do get heartburn, there are ways to help soothe it. Chewing Tums or Rolaids can help, and if you need something stronger, like Zantac or Pepcid, ask your midwife if they’re safe for you to take. Don’t take your prenatal vitamin at the same time as your Tums or Rolaids, though – these often contain calcium, and calcium can interfere with your body’s absorption of iron. Drinking a glass of milk or eating some yogurt after a meal also helps cool things down and neutralize symptoms. Almonds can help soothe the stomach, and are also a great source of calcium.
Heartburn that is especially severe or that doesn’t go away might be something more serious. If you have persistent heartburn that makes eating difficult, or wakes you up at night a lot, or if you notice weight loss, tell your midwife about it.
Have you found a way to manage heartburn during pregnancy that we left out? We’d love to hear about it!