Heartburn during pregnancy is a very common complaint.
In fact, it’s so common, studies have been done to see which interventions are most effective in preventing or treating pregnancy heartburn.
Heartburn creates a burning sensation, nausea, and an inability to lie down or simply rest. Surely growing a tiny human being is more than enough without having to endure this.
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 that burning feeling.
Heartburn during pregnancy
Heartburn is so common that studies show it occurs in almost half of all pregnant women. It can happen in the first, second, or third trimester.
One of the most likely causes of heartburn is pregnancy hormones and the effects they have on your body.
When does heartburn start in pregnancy?
Heartburn and acid reflux can begin in the first trimester. Nausea can also be part of the problem.
For most women, it resolves by the second trimester. An unlucky few will have heartburn throughout the second and into the third trimester.
The good news for mamas having their second or third babies is heartburn and other gastrointestinal symptoms are more common in a first pregnancy.
So if this is your second or third pregnancy, you can hope it’s one of those symptoms you can tick off as ‘Been there, done that, thank you very much’.
Heartburn during early pregnancy
When your body gets the signal that a fertilized egg has implanted into your uterus, many changes happen quite quickly. One of those is the rising of hormone levels, particularly progesterone.
Progesterone thickens the lining of the uterus and maintains this lining once a pregnancy has occurred. Progesterone and another hormone called relaxin also contribute to heartburn. Relaxin softens your muscles and progesterone slows your digestive system.
This all adds up to making you much more prone to heartburn and reflux.
Progesterone also reduces stomach acids. As backwards as it seems, lower levels of stomach acid can actually increase heartburn.
What causes heartburn during the second trimester?
In the second trimester your growing uterus, along with your baby and the placenta, are starting to push up out of your pelvis and towards your ribs.
This upwards movement of your growing uterus starts to compress your internal organs, such as your digestive system and your diaphragm.
All of this means there’s less room in your abdomen for your stomach. As a result, your stomach contents and stomach acid will be more likely to reflux up into the esophagus.
Heartburn during pregnancy symptoms
Here are 5 symptoms of heartburn during pregnancy and some things you can do to treat them:
#1: Feeling nauseous
For some women, nausea is a frequent pregnancy complaint. As they leave the first trimester, many women find their nausea eases.
Unfortunately for some women, when the typical pregnancy nausea subsides, then heartburn can make an appearance.
Your unsettled stomach, as well as the feeling of reflux and stomach acid, can leave you feeling unwell. Many of the tricks you used in the first trimester can help with heartburn nausea.
Some strategies to try:
- Have some ginger tea or candies
- Eat small meals throughout the day
- Avoid trigger foods
- Take small sips of water
- Drink lemon water.
#2: Feeling a lump in your throat
Sometimes experiencing heartburn can feel like something is stuck in your throat.
Reflux can cause bits of food, not just acid, to get into your esophagus. Usually, it is because the acid irritates your esophagus.
Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day helps keep the content level in your stomach low. Eat slowly, chew well, and take small sips of water. Make lifestyle changes that include choosing foods that are easy to digest.
Some remedies considered to be safe are: using over-the-counter antacids; taking papaya enzymes; and sipping on peppermint tea.
#3: Burning sensation from heartburn
The burning sensation of gastroesophageal reflux is one of the worst symptoms. Some pregnant women experience localized chest pain from indigestion. Talk to your doctor to find out what is safe to take and to rule out other complications.
Drinking raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) mixed in water throughout the day can help balance your pregnancy heartburn.
Coconut water can also act as an acid neutralizer. As a bonus, coconut water is great for rehydrating – something that can be difficult during pregnancy.
#4: Not being able to rest comfortably
There is nothing more frustrating than getting ready for bed only to realize heartburn is trying to keep you awake.
Resting on your left side, already suggested for pregnancy, can slow reflux. When you are on your left side, the angle of your stomach means 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 for a few hours before bedtime or before lying down
- Sleep in a semi-reclined position, by using pillows or raising the head of your bed
- Try a small glass of milk or yogurt to soothe your throat; long-term consumption of dairy, however, might actually increase reflux. Consider a cow’s milk substitute, such as almond milk
- Avoid trigger foods, including spicy and fatty foods
- Have small, frequent meals instead of three large ones.
#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 weren’t hard enough for some women to find food that is appealing, the weird tastes can make it even harder.
Using the above methods for neutralizing acid, such as coconut water and ACV, can help prevent the yucky taste. Keep peppermint and lemon-flavored lozenges, water, and tea on hand to help mask the taste if it bothers you.
What can I take for heartburn while pregnant?
Always consult with your doctor or midwife about taking medications during pregnancy. Over-the-counter antacids are generally considered to be safe to use to relieve heartburn.
Antacids help neutralize the acid in your stomach but it’s important you check the ones you’re using are safe.
Heartburn medications, such as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 blockers, might need to be prescribed if over-the-counter measures don’t work.
How to get rid of heartburn during pregnancy
There are many remedies, some new and some tried and true, to help prevent or alleviate the discomforts of heartburn.
Here are some tips:
- More research is showing regular chiropractic care can help reduce heartburn during and outside of pregnancy
- Consume lots of fluids, especially water
- High enzyme foods, such as papaya, pineapple, and avocado, can help digest and break down foods more efficiently
- Fermented foods and probiotics also contain enzymes to help break down foods and keep digestion moving quickly
- Eat small meals throughout the day to reduce stomach volume
- Reduce consumption of fatty foods
- If you’re a smoker, quitting smoking might help. A large study found smokers were more likely to experience heartburn. Find out more about quitting smoking during pregnancy.
When should you be concerned about pregnancy heartburn?
Heartburn during pregnancy is considered a common ailment that ends with, or shortly after, birth. Occasionally, though, even the most common pregnancy ailments are cause for concern.
If symptoms increase or are causing you to experience pain, severe nausea, or bleeding, please seek advice from your healthcare provider.
You should let your doctor or midwife know if you’re struggling to eat or stay hydrated because of the symptoms of heartburn during pregnancy.
Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned, or to find out about heartburn medications that are safe to take.
Your healthcare provider can review what’s safe to take if a prescription is needed.
Seek medical advice immediately if you vomit blood or experience severe pain. In very rare cases, extreme heartburn during pregnancy 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. 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 to reduce some of the discomforts you experience as your baby continues to grow.