Pregnancy is a time of immense joy and anticipation, but it can also bring about unexpected challenges. One of these common challenges is heartburn during pregnancy, which can sometimes overshadow the joy of this precious journey. However, understanding the causes and effective treatments for heartburn while pregnant can help expectant mothers navigate this discomfort and fully embrace the beauty of pregnancy.

In this comprehensive article, the team at University Park OBGYN aims to shed more light on the topic and explore what helps with heartburn during pregnancy.

Unraveling the Mystery of Heartburn During Pregnancy

Heartburn And Nausea In A Pregnant Woman On The Couch Stomach Problems During Pregnancy

Heartburn, often referred to as acid indigestion or acid reflux, is a burning sensation in the chest that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. This condition can be uncomfortable and even painful, and during pregnancy, it can become more prevalent. To better understand and manage heartburn while pregnant, it’s crucial to delve into the reasons behind its increased occurrence.

The Causes of Heartburn During Pregnancy

Hormonal Changes

The intricate dance of pregnancy hormones plays a significant role in the development of heartburn during pregnancy. Progesterone, a hormone that increases during pregnancy, is known for its muscle-relaxing properties. While this relaxation is essential to allow the uterus and baby to grow and develop, it has a notable side effect: the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a ring of muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach and usually acts as a valve, preventing stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. However, the relaxation of the LES during pregnancy can lead to heartburn, as it allows stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus more easily.

Growing Uterus

As the pregnancy progresses and the baby grows, the uterus expands to accommodate this remarkable journey. This growth is not without consequences for the digestive system. The expanding uterus exerts additional pressure on the stomach, which can force stomach acid into the esophagus, intensifying the sensation of heartburn. The higher the uterus rises, especially in the third trimester, the more pronounced this pressure becomes.

Delayed Gastric Emptying

The digestive system experiences various changes during pregnancy, and one of them is a slowdown in the process of gastric emptying. Gastric emptying refers to the movement of food from the stomach into the small intestine for further digestion. In pregnant women, this process can be slower, allowing stomach acid to linger in the stomach for more extended periods. The longer acid stays in the stomach, the more likely it is to flow back into the esophagus, leading to heartburn.

Diet and Food Choices

What you eat and how you eat can significantly influence the frequency and severity of heartburn. Certain foods, such as those that are spicy, acidic, or fatty, can trigger heartburn. Moreover, the consumption of large meals and eating close to bedtime can exacerbate the condition. To manage heartburn, it’s essential to make dietary modifications, avoid trigger foods, and adopt a pregnancy-friendly diet that reduces the likelihood of acid reflux.

Posture and Lifestyle Factors

The way you position your body and engage in daily activities can also affect the occurrence of heartburn. Lying down flat, especially after a meal, can encourage stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, increasing the likelihood of heartburn. Staying upright for at least two to three hours after eating can reduce the risk of acid reflux. Additionally, lifestyle factors such as smoking and maintaining a healthy weight play a role in managing heartburn during pregnancy.

Understanding the underlying causes of heartburn during pregnancy is the first step in effectively managing this discomfort. By making dietary adjustments, maintaining proper posture, and adopting lifestyle changes, expectant mothers can alleviate heartburn and continue to embrace the beauty of pregnancy with grace and comfort.

Managing Heartburn During Pregnancy: What Helps with Pregnancy Heartburn

Fortunately, there are several strategies and treatments available to manage heartburn during pregnancy effectively. Here are some tips and recommendations to help alleviate this discomfort:

  • Dietary Modifications: Avoiding trigger foods and adopting a pregnancy-friendly diet can make a significant difference. Limiting or eliminating spicy, acidic, and fatty foods, as well as consuming smaller, more frequent meals, can help prevent heartburn. Refraining from these foods will also help you avoid occasional sluggishness and may help you improve your metabolism. 
  • Stay Upright After Eating: To reduce the risk of stomach acid flowing back into the esophagus, try to remain upright for at least two to three hours after eating.
  • Sleeping Position: Elevating the head of your bed or using extra pillows to keep your upper body elevated during sleep can help prevent nighttime heartburn.
  • Antacids: Over-the-counter antacids can provide temporary relief from heartburn. It’s essential to consult with your healthcare provider before using any medications, even non-prescription ones, during pregnancy.
  • Acid Reducers: In some cases, healthcare providers may recommend acid reducers like H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to manage severe or persistent heartburn. These medications should be used under medical supervision.
  • Ginger and Herbal Teas: Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory properties and can help soothe the digestive tract. Sipping ginger tea or other herbal teas may provide relief from heartburn.
  • Chew Gum: Chewing sugar-free gum can stimulate saliva production, which can help neutralize stomach acid.
  • Stress Management: High stress levels can exacerbate heartburn. Engaging in relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga can help manage stress and, in turn, reduce the frequency of heartburn episodes.
  • Lifestyle Adjustments: Making certain lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, can have a positive impact on heartburn during pregnancy. On that note, maintaining a healthy weight before pregnancy and avoiding “eat instead of two” while carrying your baby can reduce the risk of several other pregnancy-related health problems, not just heartburn.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Pretty Pregnant Woman In Black Leggins And Bra Covering Mouth With Hand While Sitting On Her Bed At Home Maternity Health Care Concept

Heartburn during pregnancy is a common and usually benign symptom, but there are instances when it might indicate a more serious issue. It’s essential to be aware of when heartburn could be a cause for concern and seek medical attention promptly in the following situations:

  • Severe or Persistent Symptoms: If your heartburn is exceptionally severe, continuous, or unresponsive to over-the-counter antacids and home remedies, it may warrant further evaluation by a healthcare provider.
  • Chest Pain: If you experience severe or prolonged chest pain along with heartburn, it’s crucial to rule out more serious conditions, including heart-related problems. Do not dismiss chest pain as merely heartburn without seeking medical attention.
  • Blood in Vomit or Stool: If you notice blood in your vomit or if you have black, tarry stools, this may indicate gastrointestinal bleeding. It’s essential to seek immediate medical attention in these cases, as they could be signs of a more severe issue.

While the above situations are less common, they are essential to be aware of during pregnancy. If you have any concerns about your symptoms, it’s always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider to rule out any serious underlying conditions and ensure both your health and your baby’s well-being.

The Beauty of Pregnancy: Embracing Every Moment

While heartburn during pregnancy may pose some challenges, it’s essential to remember that this discomfort is often a temporary part of the journey to motherhood. By understanding the causes and implementing effective treatments, you can alleviate heartburn and fully embrace the beauty of pregnancy. This remarkable time in your life is filled with moments of joy, anticipation, and growth, and with the right care and management, you can make it a truly special experience.

On that note, if you want to learn more about heartburn during pregnancy, or have any other questions or concerns, feel free to schedule an appointment with us today. Our expert team is ready to assist you.