Heartburn during pregnancy is a common ailment that many pregnant women experience (read: suffer from).
The burning sensation, the nausea, the inability to simply lay down to rest… growing a tiny human is more than enough without having to endure this.
So, what are the symptoms of heartburn during pregnancy and what safe treatments are there?
Here’s what you need to know about heartburn and what you can do to ease the blah of it.
What Causes Heartburn During Pregnancy?
Hormone fluctuations in early pregnancy can cause heartburn as early as the first trimester, before baby's size contributes to the problem. The relaxing of your muscles and your stomach valve due to progesterone makes you prone to heartburn and reflux.
The hormones also slow down digestion and reduce your stomach acid. As backwards as it seems, lower stomach acid can actually increase heartburn. As with everything in the body, it seems the right balance (not too little, not too much) is necessary for feeling our best.
As your uterus grows to make room for baby, it begins to compress your digestive organs and your diaphragm. This means that there's less room for your stomach. It also means the compression makes it easier for stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.
The bad news? The majority of expectant mamas have to deal with heartburn.
The good news? There are things you can do to help alleviate some of the discomfort and pain.
Here are 5 symptoms of heartburn during pregnancy and some things you can do to treat them:
Heartburn Symptom #1: Feeling Nauseous
For some women, nausea is a frequent pregnancy complaint. As they leave the first trimester, many women find their nausea eases up. Unfortunately for some women, when the typical pregnancy nausea subsides, their heartburn can make an appearance.
It isn't uncommon to feel nauseous while dealing with heartburn. Your unsettled belly, as well as the feeling of reflux and acid, can leave you feeling unwell. Many of the tricks you used to settle your belly in the first trimester can help with heartburn nausea.
For example: ginger, not letting your stomach get empty, lemon flavors and small sips of water can often help to quell nausea. Deep breaths, taking your time while switching positions, and listening to your body when it says to rest, can also help with nausea.
Heartburn Symptom #2: Feeling A Lump In Your Throat
It isn't uncommon to feel as if something is stuck in your throat while experiencing heartburn. While reflux can cause some food — not just acid — to get into your esophagus, often the sensation of a lump isn't from something being in your esophagus. The acid irritates your esophagus, and the nausea also leaves that heavy feeling of something in your throat.
The way you eat can offer a little relief. Small frequent meals, rather than large meals, helps keep your stomach volume low. Sipping water throughout the day can help with the feeling of something being stuck. Eat slowly, and be sure to chew well. Eating healthy, whole foods that are easy to digest prevents that heavy feeling, indigestion.
Sucking on a peppermint lozenge or sipping peppermint tea might also help with that feeling. The frequent swallowing and the coolness of mint is likely to help relieve that feeling.
Heartburn Symptom #3: The Feeling of Burning Pain
The feeling of your throat burning is one of the worst heartburn symptoms. It might be surprising to hear, but some women experiencing heartburn simply feel localized chest pain that they wouldn't immediately associate with digestive upset. Whether it's chest pain or throat pain, it's definitely an unpleasant pregnancy ailment.
Drinking raw apple cider vinegar (ACV), though it sounds odd, can really help alleviate heartburn. As already mentioned, a decrease in stomach acid can trigger heartburn. Small sips of ACV mixed in water throughout the day can help balance your stomach acid.
Coconut water can also act as an acid neutralizer. If you're feeling nauseous and have a feeling of acid in your throat, drinking a bit might offer relief. As a bonus, coconut water is great for re-hydrating, something that can be difficult during pregnancy.
Heartburn Symptom #4: Not Being Able To Comfortably Rest
There is little more frustrating than getting ready for bed only to realize heartburn is trying to keep you awake. After a long day, lying down on your pillow might seem like heaven… until the burning sets in.
Resting on your left side, already suggested for pregnancy, can slow reflux. The angle of your stomach makes resting on your right side a bad idea for reflux sufferers as the stomach contents can easily slip into the esophagus. When you are on your left side, the contents need to work against gravity to reach the esophagus.
As pregnancy progresses and the uterus shifts your organs, simply being on your left side might not offer relief. There are a few things you can do to help alleviate heartburn in order to rest:
- Avoid eating within an hour or so of lying down
- Sleep in a semi-reclined position using pillows or raising the head of your bed
- Try a small glass of milk or yogurt to soothe your throat – keeping in mind that long term consumption of dairy might actually increase reflux. Consider a cow's milk substitute, like almond milk.
Heartburn Symptom #5: A Yucky Taste In Your Mouth
Pregnancy can cause an interesting taste in your mouth for many reasons, one of which is reflux. As if it wasn't hard enough for some to find food that is appealing, the weird tastes can make it even harder.
Using the above methods for neutralizing odour such as coconut water and ACV can help prevent the yucky taste. Keeping peppermint and lemon flavored lozenges, water and tea on hand can help you mask the taste if it does bother you.
Other Remedies For Heartburn
There are many remedies, some newer and some tried and true, to help prevent or alleviate the discomforts of heartburn.
- More research is showing that regular chiropractic care can help reduce heartburn during and outside of pregnancy
- Staying adequately hydrated with water
- High enzyme foods such as papaya, pineapple and avocado, can help us digest and breakdown foods more efficiently
- Fermented foods and probiotics also contain enzymes to help us breakdown foods and keep digestion moving quickly
- Topically applying pure aloe vera or gel on your chest and throat
- If you're a smoker, quitting smoking may help. A large study found that smokers were more likely to experience heartburn. Find out about quitting smoking during pregnancy.
When Should You Be Concerned About Heartburn?
Anytime you feel uncertain about a pregnancy symptom, it's always a good idea to reach out to your midwife or doctor. Generally speaking, heartburn during pregnancy is considered a common ailment that ends at or shortly after birth. Occasionally, even the most common pregnancy ailments are cause for concern.
If you find that you're struggling to eat or stay hydrated due to extreme nausea (or pain associated with your heartburn), it's a good idea to contact your care provider. There are medications available to treat heartburn. Keep in mind that although medications do have risks during pregnancy, sometimes the benefit does outweigh the risk in severe situations that are not helped by natural treatments. A pharmacist is a very knowledgeable person to speak to about the safety of any medications.
If the heartburn causes severe pain or if you're vomiting blood, contact your care provider immediately. In very rare cases, extreme heartburn can lead to esophageal damage. This damage is often healed with time, but occasionally medication is necessary.
Pregnancy can be filled with the joy of growing a baby, but unfortunately, it can also be filled with discomforts. Listening to your body, eating a healthy whole foods diet and paying attention to your symptoms can help you reduce some of the discomforts as your baby continues to grow.