Even though these nine months are supposed to represent an amazing period in every mother’s life, the whole process is not always unicorns and rainbows. Many women deal with digestion problems, which vary from indigestion during pregnancy to bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and also heartburn.
The hormonal and other changes in a body that is getting ready to bring another human into the world can of course have some unpleasant side effects. Many women who experience heartburn during pregnancy have never dealt with this problem before, and it can unfortunately happen to anyone.
However, there are some clever tricks you can use as pregnancy heartburn relief. But in order to treat the problem, we first have to understand it. So let’s have a look at some of the most common reasons for heartburn in pregnancy and everything else that surrounds this issue.
Heartburn in Pregnancy: Acid Reflux or GERD?
The terms heartburn, acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) are often used interchangeably, even though they actually mean different (although related) things.
Acid reflux is quite a common medical condition that comes with symptoms varying from mild to more serious. When acid reflux appears chronically and in a more severe form, we are talking about GERD. Heartburn is a symptom of both acid reflux as well as GERD.
This article focuses on heartburn during pregnancy and its various causes, which can be connected to both GERD and acid reflux.
Every woman is different, so it’s difficult to define all the early signs of pregnancy. However, heartburn is one of the common signs that something special is going on in your body in early pregnancy, especially if you can’t think of any other triggering factors.
Is Heartburn a Sign of Pregnancy?
If you’ve never experienced heartburn before, or are feeling this strange sensation more frequently than usual, you could first try to minimise your intake of acidic, salty and spicy foods. For more ideas on how to deal with this issue, check out the rest of this article.
In case this does not alleviate your problems, it’s probably time to take a pregnancy test and visit your physician as soon as possible to check what (or who) is causing you this discomfort.
Causes of Heartburn in Pregnancy
Do you know how people always blaming hormones for any negative thing that happens during pregnancy? Crying all the time? Hormones. Being cranky? Hormones. Feeling tired the moment you wake up? You guessed it – hormones.
So it comes as no surprise that hormones can also be a link between heartburn and pregnancy. In the early stages of pregnancy, your body starts to produce large amounts of progesterone that works towards relaxing your muscles. This process is great for your baby, as relaxed muscles lead to better absorption of nutrients, which then travel to the placenta and feed your baby.
However, progesterone can also loosen the lower oesophageal valve that otherwise separates your stomach and your oesophagus. Normally, this muscle opens to let the food or drink into your stomach, but closes tightly right afterwards. Unfortunately, high progesterone levels can cause weakness in this very important muscle, which results in acid backing up from your stomach to the oesophagus. This stomach acid can irritate the lining of your oesophagus and cause a very unpleasant burning sensation around your heart, which is exactly where the term “heartburn” derives from, even though it’s not connected to your heart at all.
Progesterone is also the reason why the contents of your stomach stay in your stomach longer than usual, as it slows digestion. Slower digestion means your stomach stays full longer than normal, which again increases the chances of heartburn occurring. Read this article to find out how you can improve your digestion in a natural way.
Heartburn during pregnancy is also related to the actual physical changes that are happening in your body. Your uterus has to expand to accommodate your growing baby, leaving less space for other organs. More pressure is put on your stomach, which is why stomach acids are more likely to spill out of it and travel all the way back to your throat, especially right after you’ve eaten.
Now that we’ve identified the causes of heartburn in pregnancy, let’s have a closer look at what heartburn feels like when pregnant, so we don’t mix up the symptoms with something else.
Heartburn Symptoms During Pregnancy
Not every strange sensation in your body during pregnancy means something negative, something that you’ve probably learned from your own experience so far. However, the fear of the unknown is completely normal, and you’re the best judge when it comes to knowing your body, so make sure you check with your doctor if you start experiencing any strange symptoms.
Since pregnancy, especially in the early months, is likely to leave you feeling bloated, burping and vomiting, which can result in a burning sensation in your throat, those symptoms can easily be mistaken for heartburn. However, heartburn can also come with some other symptoms that will enable you to determine whether you’re actually experiencing it.
Pregnant women have reported the following signs connected to heartburn, so be on the watch in case you notice any of them:
- a burning feeling in the chest behind the sternum: this usually appears after a meal, and can last up to a few hours;
- pain in your chest: such pain occurs especially when you try to lie down, bend over or simply eat;
- a burning sensation in the throat: this can be accompanied by a sour or salty fluid at the back of your throat;
- chronic coughing: even though coughing can be related to various other illnesses, it’s also a less known symptom of heartburn;
- burping during pregnancy: don’t simply ignore this unpleasant symptom, as it can be connected to heartburn;
- bringing up food: vomiting or nausea usually go hand-in-hand with the changes in your body that occur with pregnancy, but can also point to severe heartburn during pregnancy;
- feeling full and bloated all the time: this is another symptom that could be classified as simply being pregnant, but it can also be related to heartburn, and thus seeking treatment could help relieve the discomfort;
- wheezing and similar asthma-like symptoms: if you’ve never had any allergies or problems related to breathing before, then this symptom can come as quite a shock, but again it’s another sign you may be experiencing heartburn;
- simply feeling or being sick: of course you’re feeling ill, less energetic and simply different – you’re carrying a baby! However, if you feel something else might be going on, visit your doctor as soon as possible as treating heartburn can at least help you feel less sick.
The above-mentioned symptoms usually appear quite soon after eating or drinking, but bear in mind they can also occur at other times, so there’s not one rule for everyone, all the time.
When Does Heartburn Start in Pregnancy?
Initial symptoms of heartburn can appear quite early in pregnancy, even around the second month. As such, heartburn can be an early sign of pregnancy in many women.
However, the symptoms can worsen later in pregnancy, especially when you reach the third trimester. The reason for this is the growing uterus that puts more pressure on your stomach and organs.
As described earlier in the article, this can result in the stomach contents spilling out and up into the food pipe, and causing that unpleasant burning sensation.
Since almost a half of all pregnant women experience heartburn, which often lasts throughout the whole pregnancy, this unpleasant phenomenon is not only one of the earliest signs of pregnancy but also one of the most common.
Can You Take Antacid During Pregnancy?
Dealing with heartburn in pregnancy, especially in the last trimester when the feeling can really become unbearable, pushes many women to try over-the-counter antacids. As with any other medication, taking an antacid while pregnant should be discussed with your doctor, especially when it comes to defining the right dosage.
As a general rule, taking antacids made of calcium or magnesium is considered safe and effective if you want to alleviate heartburn. You can take an antacid when you start experiencing the symptoms, although your doctor could also advise you to actually take it before a meal or before going to bed as a preventative measure.
However, make sure you avoid taking antacids with aluminium for longer periods of time, as they can negatively impact the development of your baby’s nervous system. Another thing to bear in mind is that you should not take iron supplements at the same time as antacids, as they can prevent the absorption of iron. And lastly, when the big day is getting close it may be best to avoid antacids containing high doses of magnesium, as they can have a negative impact on uterine contractions during your labour. You don’t have to completely cut them out, but don’t take them too often and only when really needed.
If your symptoms are quite mild, the best idea would be to first consider making some of the lifestyle and dietary changes described in the rest of this article, as those alone can make quite a big difference to your well-being. But don’t worry – if your reflux in pregnancy is driving you crazy, you can take some Rennies without putting your baby’s life in danger.
Top Five Pregnancy Heartburn Remedies
If you’re wondering how to get rid of heartburn during pregnancy without taking pills, there are quite a few simple tricks you can try.
Adopt Healthy Eating Habits
Eating too much during pregnancy is a common mistake that can lead to acid reflux and heartburn. Forget the common misconception that you should be eating for two, and instead make sure you take care of your health by eating just enough.
Moreover, if your stomach suddenly becomes too full, heartburn is more likely to occur. Control your indigestion during pregnancy with smaller meals consumed more often throughout the day. Avoid big meals, and especially do not eat too much (or at all!) before going to bed.
Cut Down on Problematic Foods
Forget about foods that are very spicy, salty or fatty during your pregnancy…
Spicy foods contain a chemical compound called capsaicin, which can irritate your oesophagus, worsening the symptoms of heartburn.
The connection between salt and heartburn remains a mystery for researchers, but the bottom line is that a diet high in sodium may be a cause of heartburn, even though generally healthy people do not seem to suffer from it. Avoiding salt in pregnancy is a general recommendation anyway, as salt promotes water retention, bloating and high blood pressure.
Lastly, fatty foods cause your lower oesophageal sphincter to relax, which again lets the stomach acid travel all the way up to your throat. Additionally, fat promotes the production of the hormone cholecystokinin, which enables the food to stay in your stomach for longer, thus increasing the risk of acid reflux.
Up for a bonus tip? Excellent! Have you ever thought about having a glass of Donat? Because this natural mineral water is a lot more than a sure-fire way to fight off slow digestion or constipation. If you suffer from acid reflux issues, drinking Donat will neutralise the stomach acid in your food pipe and help get rid of that burning feeling!
But how to drink Donat to really make the most of it when battling heartburn? Make sure you drink it consistently over several days, and at least 20-30 minutes before a meal. Each time, drink between 0.1 and 0.2 l of this mineral goodness, at room temperature. We also recommend drinking it on an empty stomach.
Do not slouch when you are eating. Sitting upright will take the pressure off your stomach and enable it to relax. Think of this when you go to sleep as well – make sure you use enough pillows to keep your head and shoulders in an upright position, as this will prevent acid from finding its way into your throat while you sleep.
Quit Smoking and Alcohol
It goes without saying that smoking and alcohol are bad for the foetus for many different reasons. One of them is the increased likelihood of experiencing acid reflux in pregnancy, as drinking alcohol and inhaling the chemicals in smoke can contribute to indigestion. Both work towards relaxing the lower oesophageal valve, which lets the acid escape from your stomach and go up into your throat.
Try Foods That May Help Relieve Heartburn
Some foods work wonders when it comes to relieving or even preventing heartburn. For the best results, try and add the following to your diet:
- bananas and melons: they represent highly alkaline fruits and are the best natural remedy for your problems;
- ginger: ginger can work as an anti-inflammatory in your system and reduce reflux, as well as symptoms connected to nausea and vomiting;
- yoghurt: yoghurt has a soothing effect that will calm down your heartburn and help with proper digestion;
- green vegetables: green beans, spinach, asparagus, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and celery are all highly alkaline foods, so they’re also good for your stomach and can prevent the production of stomach acid;
- whole grains: whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice and similar all treat as well as even prevent reflux, while oatmeal can actually absorb stomach and other types of acids.
A good piece of advice would be to keep a diet diary so you can track the foods that might be causing you problems, and detect those that alleviate your symptoms.
Heartburn in pregnancy (and at any other time of life) is definitely something every expecting mother wants to avoid. Pregnant women already have to deal with so many physical changes, and suffering from acid reflux is certainly not something they do want to add to the list.
Now that you know what causes heartburn in pregnancy, which are the most common symptoms and how you can deal with the situation naturally, you are well-equipped to tackle this annoying problem and make this incredibly exciting period of your life more pleasant. Do not forget that you aren’t alone in this, and consult your doctor who can offer you even more advice. And always take good care of your immune system by eating right! Good luck!