Heartburn in pregnancy

Natural ways to beat heartburn in pregnancy

Massive kudos to you – you are growing an entire new human inside your body right now (maybe more than one?!) and that is an incredible thing! But in order to do this incredible thing, many changes to your own physiology & anatomy are having to happen and these changes can lead to symptoms that definitely make pregnancy less than fun…Heartburn in pregnancy is highly unlikely to pose any risk to you or your baby of course, but can start to have an impact on quality of life, causing pain/discomfort and affecting quality of sleep for some unlucky women.

I can’t tell you how many times as a community midwife I would see women who would tell me they were getting through a bottle of Gaviscon a week (other brands/products are available!!) to battle their on-going heartburn! And that’s ok, there are many antacids that are completely safe to take in pregnancy (please always check with your health professional before taking them)…some GP’s might prescribe a medication called Omeprazole if more common over-the-counter treatments prove ineffective. You can learn a bit more about Omeprazole for heartburn in pregnancy on the BUMPS website (Best Use of Medicines in Pregnancy).

The problem is that the physiological changes that happen to your pregnant body aren’t something fleeting, they are here to stay until your baby is born. So rather than just being a bit of a phase, heartburn (or acid reflux as it is also commonly known) is unlikely to just improve & disappear as the weeks go on – more likely, it will stick around or even get worse as your pregnancy progresses.

Now, I realise that may not sound like the good news you wanted to hear because if you are on this page reading this blog it is likely that you are suffering! But, the good news is that I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve to tell you about that might help the level of discomfort you are in much more naturally over the coming weeks/months.

An excellent place to start is understanding what can cause acid reflux in pregnancy:

Third trimester
  • 1
    Hormones

    When you are pregnant, hormonal shifts occur to support the pregnancy, help your body accommodate the growth of your baby and also to prepare the body for birth. The progesterone that increases to help with all this, also causes the digestive system to slow down so food sticks around in your stomach for longer, explaining that uncomfortable bloated feeling and those embarrassing belches you might be experiencing. 

    Plus, progesterone causes the sphincter muscle at the bottom of your oesophagus (your food pipe) to relax and slacken and that means that stomach acid can back flow much more easily than normal up the oesophagus and even up the throat causing that horrible burning sensation.

  • 2
    Growing Baby

    Your uterus grows & stretches to accommodate your growing baby (with the help of progesterone of course!), but whilst it gets bigger as pregnancy progresses, it is moving other organs over, up or down to find space! By the time the third trimester comes around, your stomach is just one organ that is getting pretty squashed in there so it makes perfect sense that with that slackened sphincter muscle, stomach acid plus anything you’ve just eaten is really easily forced back upwards.

So, how can you manage heartburn in pregnancy? Here are 6 simple things to try:

Heartburn relief in pregnancy
  • Eat frequent smaller meals

    This is a small change that will make a big difference! We’ve already worked out that there will be less space for your stomach with a growing baby in the vicinity…so, instead of having your 3 main meals a day, try splitting this down into 5 smaller meals. Smaller amounts of food will reduce the feelings of bloating & discomfort but are also much easier (and therefore quicker) for your body to digest, requiring less acid to break them down resulting in less to travel back up your throat.

  • Avoid foods and drinks that trigger your acid-reflux more

    Many women find that caffeine, fizzy drinks, garlic, citrus fruit and unfortunately chocolate will trigger their heartburn in pregnancy so finding ways to cut these down or out of your diet for now could bring you some relief.

    The body needs more time to digest fatty foods, which leads to greater production of acids to break them down…so avoiding anything greasy, fried or generally with high fat content may be a good idea too – not easy if like me your pregnant body craves all those amazing convenience carbs such as chips & crisps!!

    Spicy foods are also well known to aggravate acid reflux, not least because your oesophagus may well be quite inflamed so anything spicy coming back up will just irritate that even more.

  • Try some foods that might help

    Did you know that banana helps fight heartburn? It is a low-acid fruit that can coat an irritated oesophagus, helping to protect it from acid. What’s more, pectin (the fibre found in bananas) helps to move stomach contents through the digestive tract which can help things be less sluggish down there.

    Sipping on some coconut water can also soothe & prevent heartburn since it is a known acid neutraliser (& an extra benefit in pregnancy is that it is a natural laxative so a godsend for constipation!). Have a read about other benefits of coconut water in pregnancy on The Health Site.

    Adding ginger to your diet (sliced, grated or even just a ginger tea) will take advantage of it’s natural anti-inflammatory properties, calming the discomfort in your oesophagus & throat caused by the acid - you may well be using this one already if you’ve experienced morning sickness or nausea! Not a fan of ginger? Fear not...there are plenty of other herbal teas out there that can help with heartburn, bloating & indigestion. Check out this 6 best teas for acid reflux article.

  • Take a stroll after meals

    Walking helps to accelerate the digestive process so having a gentle stroll after eating will help move the food in your stomach through your system sooner, reduce the amount of acid produced to digest it and therefore reduce the reflux you experience. It also keeps you upright for a while after eating, and gravity will be your friend when it comes to keeping acid down as you will see in the next tip!

  • Don’t go to bed straight after meals

    You need to give your digestion a head start before lying down or heading to bed, otherwise you are simply inviting the food and acid to creep back up that oesophagus! Ideally try to make sure there’s at least 3 hours between eating and going to bed to give your digestion time to do it’s thing and to remain upright to encourage everything to stay down…you may find it useful even after this amount of time to sleep with your upper body propped up a little on pillows rather than lying flat (some even swear by raising the head end of the bed a few inches with blocks securely placed underneath!)

  • Try acupuncture

    There is a 2015 study that found that women who received acupuncture for their heartburn in pregnancy (versus those who didn’t) reported improvement in their ability to sleep & eat. Complimentary therapies are widely used for all kinds of pregnancy related issues – worth a look if you’re suffering!

I know it doesn’t always help when you tell your midwife about your heartburn in pregnancy & they respond with ‘it’s such a common ailment’ or ‘it’s completely normal’ – it probably leaves you feeling a bit like your concerns aren’t valid and back to square one with how to help yourself. So, hopefully there’s a few things here that you didn’t already know and that you can try to bring yourself some relief…There’s no magic resolution but of course, once your baby has arrived you will most likely find that all your heartburn woes disappear as your hormones and space for all your organs return themselves to normal!

 

So, I'd love to know...have you found something else that’s working for you? Drop it in the comments box below - you might just be saving another mum-to-be from weeks/months of frustrating acidic discomfort!

 

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