Heartburn is common during pregnancy. In fact, an estimated one half of all pregnant women experiences the condition, particularly during the second and third trimesters.
The term heartburn describes an uncomfortable burning sensation that occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, happens when the lower esophageal sphincter – a muscular valve located between the esophagus and stomach – relaxes, allowing stomach juices to flow back into the esophagus.
During pregnancy, hormonal changes can cause the sphincter muscle to relax, leading to symptoms of heartburn. Pressure on the stomach caused by the growing fetus can also put pressure on the stomach, forcing stomach acid through the relaxed esophageal sphincter.
Many times heartburn during pregnancy can be treated through a few simple changes in eating habits, including:
- Opt for smaller, more frequent meals and avoid consuming large amounts of food at one time
- Eat slowly and chew food well
- Remain upright for 1-2 hours after a meal, avoiding lying down
- Elevate the head of your bed or use pillows to keep the upper body higher than the feet
- Choose loose-fitting clothing and avoid constrictive or tight clothes
- Stay away from spicy, fatty or acidic foods and limit carbonated beverages and caffeine
- Position yourself on your left side at night to promote stomach emptying and reduce pregnancy heartburn symptoms
- Keep weight gain within recommended guidelines
Avoid taking over-the-counter medications for heartburn unless approved by your obstetrician. Some antacids contain aspirin, magnesium or sodium which may not be advised during pregnancy. If symptoms are severe, talk with your OBGYN about whether or not acid-reducing medications are right for you.