During pregnancy, it is common to have nausea, back pain, sore legs, and interrupted sleep. Another one of the complaints of many pregnant women is the heartburn that they experience. In fact, up to 50% of women are likely to experience heartburn at some point in their pregnancies. For me, the heartburn and indigestion were the worst part of my pregnancy with Caitlin. With Ieuan, I had morning sickness very briefly but no other symptoms. Every woman and every pregnancy is different.
If you are suffering from heartburn, you may not be able to avoid it or relieve it completely during pregnancy, but there are ways to control it.
What exactly is heartburn?
Heartburn actually has nothing to do with your heart. The burning pain, associated with heartburn, results when stomach acid rises up into your oesophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). You may hear it referred to by its medical name, “gastroesophageal reflux.” “Gastro” means stomach. “Esophageal” refers to your oesophagus/food pipe.
What causes heartburn during pregnancy?
There is a muscle, called the “lower oesophagal sphincter,” located between your stomach and oesophagus. This muscle relaxes when you eat or drink something so that the food/drink gets to your stomach.
However, if the muscle relaxes and does not stay closed, then symptoms of heartburn result.
The two main reasons for heartburn during pregnancy are:
1. Pregnancy hormones play a role in relaxing muscles throughout your body. This includes the lower oesophagal sphincter.
2. The growing uterus pushes and displaces other organs in your abdomen, including the stomach and its contents.
What can you do to reduce heartburn and its effects?
1. Eat smaller, more frequent meals
Most pregnant women get accustomed to doing this anyway, especially as the pregnancy continues and the baby crowds your abdominal organs.
2. Do not eat/drink before you lie down
You want to use gravity to your advantage to help keep things in your stomach, where they should be.
It is preferable that you do not eat for about two hours before you plan to go to sleep.
3. Make adjustments to your sleeping surface
You may have to sleep in a recliner chair for part of your pregnancy. Again, you are using gravity to help keep things down.
A second option is to elevate the head of your bed. You can do this by putting six-inch blocks under the head of your bed. Alternatively, you can buy a foam bed wedge that you place under your head down to your waist, and sleep on that. That will keep you propped up. You can find these wedges on Amazon, for example.
4. Try sleeping on your left side instead of your right side
This recommendation is based on the anatomical design of the human body and can be helpful for some heartburn sufferers.
5. Ensure you are wearing comfortable maternity clothing
You want to avoid anything tight around your waist that might cause increased pressure and chance for reflux.
6. Avoid particular foods and drinks
Spicy foods and carbonated beverages are known to play a role in heartburn. Caffeine, citrus, and pickled foods can also aggravate it.
7. Speak to your physician
If you try these tips, and you are still not getting full relief, be sure to talk to your doctor. Some antacids may be able to be used, but you should get medical advice first as to which ones are recommended during pregnancy.
What worked for me
I found that high protein foods really seemed to settle my stomach – in particular cheese and cheesy biscuits and crackers. Now I will confess that I put on a lot of weight with Caitlin but frankly I got to the point where I would do anything to make the horrid nausea and heartburn go away. Babybel (the small cheeses covered in red wax) or snack size portions of cheddar are great to have in your bag, along with snack packs of crackers – oh, and indigestion tablets!
To summarize, heartburn is one nuisance of pregnancy. Now that you know what causes it, you need to implement methods to control or relieve it. Pregnancy certainly can be uncomfortable, but you want to do what you can to minimize those discomforts.