During pregnancy, the body undergoes various changes that are crucial for the healthy growth of the baby and the mother’s preparation for delivery. However, these changes can often lead to acid reflux and heartburn, causing discomfort and pain. While the severity of heartburn may vary among pregnant women, there are steps that can be taken to alleviate the symptoms. This article provides five effective ways to soothe heartburn during pregnancy, including the use of antacids, drinking milk or ginger tea, and making dietary adjustments. Additionally, it offers valuable information on the causes, prevention, and timing of heartburn during pregnancy. It is important for pregnant women to consult with their healthcare provider before trying any remedies or taking over-the-counter medications. By following the suggested recommendations, expectant mothers can find relief from heartburn and experience a more comfortable pregnancy journey.
What Is Heartburn?
Heartburn refers to the uncomfortable burning or painful sensation in the chest when acid moves upward from the stomach into the esophagus. The esophagus is the muscular tube that moves food from the mouth toward the stomach for digestion. At the bottom of the esophagus is a circular muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter. When functioning normally, this muscle prevents acid from leaving the stomach. However, when this sphincter doesn’t close completely, stomach acid can reflux or travel upward into the esophagus [^1].
What Causes Heartburn During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy can cause an increase in acid reflux and, thus, heartburn because of a hormone called progesterone. Progesterone, also known as the pregnancy hormone, can slow digestion and cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax [^2]. Besides hormonal changes, physical changes can contribute to heartburn. As the baby grows, the uterus expands, which can increase the amount of pressure placed on the stomach [^3].
When Does Heartburn Start in Pregnancy?
For some women, heartburn starts during the first trimester of pregnancy, thanks to progesterone. However, other mothers may not experience it until the third trimester. The frequency of heartburn typically increases as the pregnancy progresses [^8].
How Common Is Heartburn During Pregnancy?
Heartburn is one of the most frequently experienced symptoms during pregnancy, reported by over half of all pregnant women. It happens more commonly in mothers who have either been pregnant before or suffered from heartburn before becoming pregnant [^1].
How To Treat Heartburn During Pregnancy
Thankfully, there are effective options for heartburn relief during pregnancy. It is essential to talk with the OB care provider before trying home remedies for acid reflux or taking over-the-counter medications during pregnancy. Antacids, such as Tums, can help reduce heartburn symptoms. However, it is crucial to discuss with the OB care provider which medications are safe to take while pregnant [^3].
Some antacids contain high amounts of sodium, which can cause water retention. Others have aluminum, which should be avoided during pregnancy. It is also important to avoid taking antacids within two hours of folic acid or iron supplements, as they may reduce the body’s ability to absorb these nutrients [^4].
If the OB care provider recommends taking over-the-counter medications, they can provide quick relief for discomfort. However, there are other remedies to get rid of heartburn during pregnancy when access to antacids is limited:
Drinking milk or eating low-fat yogurt can help relieve heartburn. Skim milk is the best option, as the fat in whole milk can sometimes worsen acid reflux [^5].
Drinking ginger tea with a tablespoon of honey can provide relief from heartburn. Ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is a commonly used digestive aid [^5].
Although lemon juice is acidic, drinking a small amount with honey and warm water can help neutralize the acid in the stomach [^5].
Can You Prevent Heartburn During Pregnancy?
There are several steps pregnant women can take to reduce acid reflux and heartburn symptoms:
Choosing foods that won’t cause heartburn during pregnancy is crucial. Opt for foods that are high in fiber (oatmeal, sweet potatoes, or carrots), less acidic (bananas, melons, or nuts), and contain plenty of water (watermelon, celery, or cucumbers). Avoid greasy or spicy foods and caffeine, as these can worsen heartburn [^1].
Take your time
Eat meals slowly and try eating smaller meals more frequently to ease digestion [^7].
Alcohol and smoking
Avoid both alcohol and smoking, as they not only contribute to heartburn but can also negatively impact the baby’s growth and development [^1].
Pay attention to posture while eating, as sitting up straight can aid in preventing acid reflux [^1].
Don’t lie on the back immediately after eating, and try to elevate the head of the bed. Using a wedge-shaped pillow or placing pillows under the shoulders can help improve sleep position and reduce heartburn [^1] [^7].
It’s important to remember that pregnancy-related symptoms, including heartburn, don’t last forever. If experiencing heartburn during pregnancy, there are options available to reduce the discomfort. It’s advisable to consult with the OB care provider about the available options. Additionally, as hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels, heartburn resolves shortly after delivery for most mothers.