What is pregnancy heartburn?It can be a living nightmare for many. Common and not at all harmful to you or your baby, it's painful all the same. It's a burning sensation that reaches from the base of your throat to the bottom of your breastbone. It occurs when the digestive acid from your stomach rises up into your gullet (oesophagus). This acid can come up as far as the back of your throat or into your mouth and it leaves a nasty, bitter taste behind.
What causes it?The belief is that heartburn during pregnancy occurs due to the physical and hormonal changes in your body. The increase in the hormone progesterone in your system is designed to relax some of the muscles in your womb. Unfortunately, though, it can also relax the valve that separates your gullet from your stomach, which means gastric acid leaks up into your oesophagus (wind pipe) and creates that nasty burning feeling. Also, as your pregnancy progresses, your body actually moves your intestines and your stomach up inside the body to allow for your growing baby. This slows your digestion down and means acid is more likely to rise up into your throat.
What can I do to prevent it?The key heartburn triggers are eating, lying down and bending over. Seeing as it's impossible for you to avoid doing any of these things, we've found a few ways to make heartburn during pregnancy a little easier. Work out which of those activities makes the heartburn worse for you then, try these:
- Eat little and often instead of big main meals. This means the acid in your tummy has less time to build up because food neutralises stomach acid
- Drink milk or milky drinks as this can help settle the symptoms
- Stay upright during or directly after eating. Don't bend over or slump. Try not to lie down for at least an hour after eating
- Choose foods that are easier to digest. We're afraid this means spicy takeaways, super rich meals, chocolate cake and alcohol and coffee are not going to be your friends
- If your heartburn plagues you at night, try lying in a propped up position using several pillows. Gravity should help keep that acid down
Who can help me manage it?
If none of the above helps, try your local pharmacist because they will be able to advise which over-the-counter antacids or alginates are safe for you and your baby. Fingers crossed, these medicines should give you a rest from the pain of heartburn, but if they don't you'll need to speak to your midwife or doctor to see what next for you and your digestive issues. There may be some prescription only medicines that they can suggest.
When will it stop?Your symptoms will most likely disappear completely on the birth of your baby as your digestive organs move south again.
The midwife says:'As your baby grows, everything internally gets pushed out of sync. So that's often why heartburn happens. We tend to talk to women about what they eat and how they sit before we suggest medication, although many women swear by Gaviscon.' Janet Fyle, midwife advisor for the Royal College of Midwifery
'My heartburn was like having a wall of burning liquid travelling up and down my oesophagus. It started in the 2nd trimester when the morning sickness was replaced by burning hell, morning, noon and night. No particular foods triggered it but I was uncomfortable all day long and especially in the evenings. When I realised I was probably reaching the legal Gaviscon consumption in one day I knew something had to be done. The doctor suggested a drug called Omeprozole. This little capsule of magic changed my life overnight. It decreased the amount of acid being produced by my stomach and according to my doctor was safe to take in a low dose during pregnancy.' - Petrina B