Heartburn is a real pain whenever it decides to appear, but unfortunately it’s even more likely to rear its ugly head during pregnancy. If you’re feeling that nasty burning sensation after eating, you need our complete guide to soothing heartburn during pregnancy, quickly and safely.
What is pregnancy heartburn?
Pregnancy heartburn can be a living nightmare for many. Although it’s 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 or oesophagus (also known as acid reflux). 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. You’re more likely to get pregnancy heartburn if you have had indigestion before, or if you have been pregnant before.
Symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion in pregnancy
Heartburn is also known as acid reflux or indigestion. Symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion include:
- a burning feeling or pain in the chest area
- feeling full, bloated or heavy
- feeling sick or vomiting
- feeling like you are bringing up food
- burping or belching
The symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion can come on at any time, but they are most common from 27 weeks of pregnancy onwards.
What causes it?
It’s thought that physical and hormonal changes in your body can cause heartburn during pregnancy. The increase in the hormone progesterone in your system is designed to relax some of the muscles in your womb. But unfortunately it can also relax the valve that separates your gullet from your stomach, allowing gastric acid to leak up into your oesophagus (wind pipe) and create that nasty burning feeling. And as your pregnancy progresses, your intestines and stomach actually move up inside your body to allow space for your growing baby. This slows your digestion down and makes acid 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. OK, it’s impossible for you to avoid doing any of these things, but there are things you can do to make heartburn during pregnancy a little easier. Try these tips:
- Eat little and often and avoid big main meals. This gives the acid in your tummy less time to build up because food neutralises stomach acid.
- Try drinking milk or milky drinks as this can help to settle the symptoms.
- Stay upright during and directly after eating. Don’t bend over or slump while you eat and try not to lie down for at least an hour after eating
- Choose foods that are easy to digest. We’re afraid this means spicy takeaways, super rich meals, chocolate cake and coffee are off the menu.
- If heartburn hits at night, try propping yourself up on several pillows. Gravity should help to keep that acid down.
Who can help me manage it?
If none of the above helps, speak to your local pharmacist. They will be able to advise you which over-the-counter antacids or alginates are safe for you and your baby. These medicines should give you a break from the pain of heartburn. If not, you’ll need to speak to your midwife or doctor to see what’s next. They may be able to recommend a prescription medicine.
When will it stop?
Your symptoms will probably disappear after your baby is born and your digestive organs move back down south.
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 second 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