Many women will experience heartburn during their pregnancy. Even for women who have never experienced it before, heartburn may occur for the first time while they are pregnant. That burning sensation in the chest and throat, and sour, acidic taste in the mouth, may become an all too familiar sensation for some of them. Why?
Heartburn during pregnancy occurs for a number of reasons. Increased levels of hormones in your body while pregnant can soften the ligaments that normally keep the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) tightly closed.
If the LES relaxes at inappropriate times, food and stomach acids can reflux back up into your esophagus and throat. Also more pressure is put on your stomach as your body changes and your baby grows. This, in turn, can force stomach contents through the LES and into your esophagus.
Though you may not be able to eliminate heartburn completely, you can take some steps to minimize your discomfort.
- Don't eat foods that are known heartburn triggers. These include chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes and tomato-based products, mustard, vinegar, mint products, and spicy, highly seasoned, fried, and fatty foods. For a complete list of foods to avoid, check out this chart. For foods that have a low risk of causing heartburn, check out this chart.
- Avoid drinks containing caffeine (coffee, tea, cola) because these can relax the LES and allow acid to reflux back into the esophagus.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol relaxes the LES. Read the article on alcohol and heartburn for more information.
- Don't eat big meals. Eat several small meals throughout the day instead.
- Don't rush through your meals. Take your time eating, and chew thoroughly.
- Wait at least three hours after your last meal before going to bed.
- It's important to drink plenty of water during pregnancy (8-10 glasses daily) along with other fluids, but don't drink these only at mealtimes. Large quantities of fluids can distend your stomach, putting more pressure on the LES and forcing it to open inappropriately. Drink some of your fluids in between meals.
- Sleep with your head and shoulders propped up with a wedge pillow or elevate the head of your bed six to eight inches. This will allow gravity to work for you and it will help keep your stomach acids where they should be--in your stomach and not in your esophagus. For some tips on easing nighttime heartburn, read this article.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing. You need to avoid any tightness around your waist and stomach.
- Bend at the knees instead of at the waist. Bending at the waist puts more pressure on your stomach.
- Sit upright in a comfortable chair rather than slouching.
- Gain a sensible amount of weight and stay within the guidelines your doctor suggests. Too much of a weight, and obesity, puts more pressure on your stomach, and can force stomach contents through the LES and into your esophagus.
- Don't smoke. While your doctor may urge you break the habit because you're pregnant, smoking can also increase your odds of experiencing heartburn. Read about smoking and heartburn to find out the reasons smoking increases heartburn.
- You should always check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter remedies while pregnant, but there are a few choices you have that can help eliminate heartburn. Some heartburn relievers such as Tums, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, or Gaviscon may prove helpful. Again, it's important that you check with your doctor before taking any of these remedies.
You may also be interested in the following articles:
For more information on all aspects of pregnancy, please check out the resources provided by About's Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth.
"Healthy Pregnancy" U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 21 Jan 2007
"Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 030882 June 2003. NIH Publication No. 030882 June 2003. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 21 Jan 2007