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 heartburn. In fact, up to 50% of women are likely to experience heartburn at some point in their pregnancies, and I was definitely one of them!
I had never even experienced heartburn until my second pregnancy. Within month two, I woke up one night feeling a horrible pain in my chest. I woke up my husband to tell him I thought something was wrong. As I described my symptoms to him, I told him it felt like my chest was burning. He paused and said, “Jenny, I think you have heartburn.” I was completely shocked. So this is what heartburn is like?
The heartburn continued to get worse and worse over the weeks, and I finally called my doctor. Even though I did many of these tips, I still needed medication to help quell the remaining heartburn, but these steps definitely did help. So how can you deal with heartburn during pregnancy? You may not be able to avoid heartburn 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 esophagus (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 esophagus/food pipe.
What causes heartburn during pregnancy?
There is a muscle, called the “lower esophageal sphincter,” located between your stomach and esophagus. 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:
- Pregnancy hormones play a role in relaxing muscles throughout your body. This includes the lower esophageal sphincter.
- 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.
To summarize, heartburn is one nuisance of pregnancy. Now that you know what causes it, you can implement methods to control or relieve it. Pregnancy certainly can be uncomfortable, but you don’t have to suffer through heartburn.