Heartburn during pregnancy

Heartburn is very common in pregnancy especially in the later part of the second trimester onwards but many women are affected earlier. Women who have never experienced heartburn before may also find they have a burning sensation in their chest and throat.  Heartburn is not dangerous to you or your baby although it can be painful and very unpleasant.

Heartburn is best described as a strong burning sensation that happens between your lower throat and chest and is caused by the acid in your stomach being brought back up into your oesophagus. (This is the tube linking your mouth and stomach). Sometimes the acid can also come back up into your mouth leaving a bitter and unpleasant taste.

It is thought that pregnant women are more likely to suffer from heartburn as the hormone progesterone which relaxes your uterus can also relax the valve in your stomach and therefore it allows acid back up when it would not normally. Another reason is during later pregnancy when your baby is growing bigger, she needs to push your intestines and stomach up inside in order to make more room. This will make your digestion slower and may also force the acids inside your stomach up past the relaxed valve and into your oesophagus.

It is thought that multiple births, larger babies and babies in breech position can cause heartburn to be worse for the mother.

If you begin to suffer from heartburn during your pregnancy, it is likely that you will continue to do so, on and off throughout the rest of your pregnancy until your baby is born. There are few things that you can try in order to prevent getting heartburn or help relieve the symptoms, including:

  • Avoiding spicy, fatty, fried and rich foods
  • Cutting down on tea, coffee, sugar
  • Eating smaller regular meals as this stops your stomach from being over full
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots between meals, but avoid drinking as you eat
  • A milky drink can help relieve the pain
  • Peppermint tea may help with your digestion
  • Ginger and chamomile tea may also help relieve heartburn pain
  • Avoid meat as too much in your diet may increase your risk of heartburn
  • A lot of fizzy drinks may also increase the risk
  • Try and stay upright after eating to allow time to digest your food
  • Trying sleeping in a propped up position as gravity will help keep the stomach acid in the stomach
  • Do not eat within three hours of going to bed
  • If you are on any medicines, check with your doctor or pharmacist that they are not making your heartburn worse
  • Smoking causes heartburn to be worse
  • Try eating one or two garlic cloves a day. If you would prefer to take a garlic capsule, always inform your midwife first and ensure it contains allicin.
  • During pregnancy some women take an iron supplement. This may make your heartburn worse so talk to your midwife or doctor if you have this problem as other forms of supplement may be used instead.
  • Some women try homeopathic remedies to ease the pain. However, ensure you always gain advice from a registered professional and inform your midwife.
  • Breathing and relaxation techniques can also ease heartburn pain. Yoga and tai chi are good examples that focus on posture and may help you.
  • Aromatherapy. Some women find that a combination of lemon or orange essential oils in a grape-seed base oil can help when added to a bath or massaged into your chest also helps.

You can also use over-the-counter remedies for heartburn although make sure you tell the pharmacist that you are pregnant. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe medication to relieve your heartburn.

If you are concerned about heartburn at any time during your pregnancy, speak to your midwife or doctor as they will be able to answer any questions that you may have and help you if you are suffering with symptoms.

by Jenny, mum to William and James

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