Feeling the burn? No one knows heartburn quite like a pregnant woman. What’s more, you’re likely feeling the burning and discomfort from mouth to stomach to bowel throughout your pregnancy. And you’re not alone: Nearly half of expectant moms have also been feeling your pain.
When does heartburn generally start during pregnancy?
For many women, heartburn is among the earliest symptoms of pregnancy, beginning around month two.
What causes heartburn during pregnancy?
Early in pregnancy, your body produces large amounts of the hormones progesterone and relaxin, which tend to relax smooth muscle tissues throughout your body, including those in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. As a result, food sometimes moves more slowly through your system, resulting in indigestion issues of all kinds, from that bloated, gassy feeling to heartburn. This may be uncomfortable for you, but it’s actually beneficial for your baby. This digestive slowdown allows for better absorption of nutrients into your bloodstream and subsequently through the placenta and into your baby.
Heartburn occurs when the ring of muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach relaxes (like all the muscles in the GI tract), allowing food and harsh digestive juices to back up from the stomach to the esophagus. These stomach acids irritate the sensitive esophageal lining, causing a burning sensation right around where the heart is located; thus the term heartburn, though the problem has nothing to do with your heart.
How do you treat heartburn during pregnancy?
There are several ways to control and treat heartburn during pregnancy. And with so many options — and so much time – you’ll probably try them all:
- Chew on sugarless gum. Doing so for about half an hour after meals increases saliva production, which can neutralize excess acid in your esophagus. Concerned about artificial sweeteners during pregnancy? Sugarless gum is fine in moderation. If you’re among the women who find that mint-flavored gum exacerbates heartburn, choose a non-minty gum.
- Add almonds. Eat a few almonds after each meal, since these tasty nuts neutralize the juices in the stomach, which may relieve or even prevent heartburn.
- Get milk. Soothe with a small glass of almond milk after every meal or just when the heartburn hits (you’ll get a calcium bonus). Some moms-to-be find cooling comfort in warm milk mixed with a tablespoon of honey.
- Pop papaya. Fresh, dried or freeze-dried papaya helps relieve heartburn for some women and scores vitamins A and C, too.
What medications can I take for heartburn during pregnancy?
Keep a supply of Tums and Rolaids at popping distance: In addition to helping curb the burn, they’ll also give you a healthy dose of calcium while they ease your discomfort. Maalox and Mylanta are also usually given the green light. For all of these choices, be sure to check with your practitioner for the right dosage.
Avoid other heartburn medications during pregnancy unless they’re prescribed by your doctor. However, if your heartburn is persistent, your doctor may suggest that you try an over-the-counter heartburn medicine that controls acid production, like proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 blockers. They’re generally considered safe during pregnancy for women whose symptoms are severe and don’t respond to antacids and other lifestyle changes, but you’ll want to get the okay first from your practitioner.
Can I prevent heartburn during pregnancy?
The chances of having a completely heartburn-free pregnancy are slim to none. The good news is that pregnancy-induced indigestion is also nothing to worry about. In the meantime, there are plenty of preventive measures and soothing strategies you can try:
- Avoid trigger foods. If a food brings on the burn or other tummy troubles, take it off the menu for now. Some foods are known to trigger heartburn, including highly seasoned or spicy food, fried or fatty foods, processed meats, chocolate, caffeine, carbonated beverages, mint and citrus.
- Don’t drink and eat at the same time. Too much fluid mixed with too much food will distend the stomach, aggravating heartburn. Try to drink most of your fluids between meals.
- Catch the early bird special. Whether you’re eating at home or out, take your last big meal at least two hours before bedtime so your stomach can get started on digestion before you lie down for the night. (A before-bed snack is fine, so long as it’s light and easy to digest.)
- Avoid digestive overload. Skip the three big squares. Six small meals are the solution to many pregnancy symptoms, from heartburn to bloating to lagging energy.
- Take it slowly. Chewing is the first step in the digestive process: The more you chew, the less work your stomach has to do. Plus when you eat too quickly, you often swallow air, which can form gas pockets in your belly. So even when you’re super hungry or in a hurry, make an effort to take small bites and chew well.
- Keep it loose. Wear clothes that breathe. Tight clothing around your waist can constrict your tummy, adding to the pressure and fueling the burn.
- Hold your head up. Make sure to sit upright while eating, and stay that way for a couple of hours afterwards. Lying down, slouching, slumping and stooping all bring gastric juices back up. When you have to bend over, do it with your knees instead of at your waist. And try sleeping with your head elevated about six inches, which takes advantage of gravity to help keep those gastric juices where they belong.
- Watch your weight. Keep your pregnancy weight gain gradual and moderate; depending on your starting weight, within the 25- to 35-pound recommended range. Extra pounds can make heartburn worse by adding to the pressure on your digestive tract.
- Don’t smoke. It’s yet another reason to quit today, if you haven’t already…and it’s not even the best one.
- Relax for relief. Stress compounds all gastric upset, so learning to chill can ease the burn. Try approaches including prenatal yoga, meditation, visualization, acupuncture, biofeedback or hypnosis.
When can I expect the heartburn to end during pregnancy?
Unfortunately, heartburn is a symptom you’re likely to experience throughout your entire pregnancy if you have it at all. In fact, even if you escaped indigestion early on in your pregnancy, there’s a good chance you’ll have a surge starting around the second or third trimesters, when your uterus takes over your abdominal cavity and forces your stomach upwards. Fortunately, the burn should clear up as soon as you give birth.
Pregnancy and GERD
If you had gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) before pregnancy, heartburn is nothing new — but treating it during pregnancy might be. Now that you’re expecting, talk to your practitioner about whether the prescription meds you’re taking are still okay now that you’re pregnant. Many of the tips for fighting heartburn can also help with your reflux.
And if heartburn is new to you since pregnancy and occurs more than twice a week, or if you haven’t found relief after taking over-the-counter medications for more than two weeks, be sure to talk to your doctor. You may have GERD, which requires specific lifestyle changes and medication.
Does heartburn during pregnancy mean my baby will be born with hair?
Feeling the burn badly? You may want to stock up on baby shampoo. Research has backed up the superstition that, on average, the more heartburn you have during pregnancy, the more likely your baby will be born with a full head of hair. Implausible as it sounds, it seems that the hormones responsible for heartburn are the same ones that cause fetal hair to sprout.