Heartburn is a real pain whenever it decides to appear, but unfortunately it's even more likely to rear its ugly head during pregnancy.
Heartburn during pregnancy tends to happen as your body undergoes lots of hormonal changes and the growing baby often presses against your stomach. Unfortunately, this can (and more often than not) cause some stomach pain (opens in new tab) - otherwise known as indigestion, heartburn or acid reflux.
But luckily, you can help ease the condition yourself and it's rarely ever something to worry about. The NHS advises simple lifestyle changes to limit the change of heartburn throughout your pregnancy and suggests that medications such antacids and alginates could be beneficial for a short-term solution.
If you're feeling that nasty burning sensation right after eating, you might need this complete guide to soothing heartburn during pregnancy, quickly and safely.
What is heartburn during pregnancy?
Pregnancy heartburn can be a living nightmare for many. Although it's common and not at all harmful to you or your baby, it's painful all the same.
It occurs when the digestive acid from your stomach rises up into your gullet or oesophagus (also known as acid reflux). This acid can come up as far as the back of your throat or into your mouth and it leaves a nasty, bitter taste behind. You're more likely to get pregnancy heartburn if you have had indigestion before, or if you have been pregnant before.
What does heartburn feel like?
Typically, heartburn can be characterised by a burning sensation that reaches from the base of your throat to the bottom of your breastbone and in the centre of your chest.
It can last a couple of minutes or a few hours and you might feel it even more when you bend over or lay down.
Symptoms of heartburn
Heartburn is also known as acid reflux or indigestion. Symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion include:
- A burning feeling or pain in the chest area
- Feeling full, bloated or heavy
- Feeling sick or vomiting
- Feeling like you are bringing up food
- Burping or belching
How soon can you get heartburn when pregnant?
The symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion can come on at any time, but they are most common from 27 weeks of pregnancy onwards.
Many report it during the first trimester. This is because the muscles in your esophagus are pushing food into your stomach at a much slower rate than before, and so your stomach takes longer to empty. While this allows the fetus more time to absorb the food's nutrients, it also commonly causes heartburn.
What causes it?
It's thought that physical and hormonal changes in your body can cause heartburn during pregnancy.
The increase in the hormone progesterone in your system is designed to relax some of the muscles in your womb. But unfortunately, it can also relax the valve that separates your gullet from your stomach, allowing gastric acid to leak up into your oesophagus (wind pipe) and create that nasty burning feeling. And as your pregnancy progresses, your intestines and stomach actually move up inside your body to allow space for your growing baby. This slows your digestion down and makes acid more likely to rise up into your throat.
How do you prevent heartburn in pregnancy?
The key heartburn triggers are eating, lying down and bending over. OK, it's impossible for you to avoid doing any of these things, but there are things you can do to make heartburn during pregnancy a little easier.
Try these tips for preventing heartburn during pregnancy:
- Eat little and often and avoid big main meals: This gives the acid in your tummy less time to build up because food neutralises stomach acid.
- Try drinking milk or milky drinks as this can help to settle the symptoms.
- Stay upright during and directly after eating: Don't bend over or slump while you eat and try not to lie down for at least an hour after eating
- Choose foods that are easy to digest: We're afraid this means spicy takeaways, super rich meals, chocolate cake and coffee are off the menu.
- If heartburn hits at night, try propping yourself up on several pillows: Gravity should help to keep that acid down.
Should I go to the doctor about heartburn?
If none of the above helps, speak to your local pharmacist. They will be able to advise you which over-the-counter antacids or alginates are safe for you and your baby.
These medicines should give you a break from the pain of heartburn. If not, you'll need to speak to your midwife or doctor to see what's next. They may be able to recommend a prescription medicine.
When will it stop?
Your symptoms will probably disappear after your baby is born and your digestive organs move back down south.
As Janet Fyle, midwife advisor for the Royal College of Midwifery (opens in new tab) says, "As your baby grows, everything internally gets pushed out of sync. So that's often why heartburn happens. We tend to talk to women about what they eat and how they sit before we suggest medication, although many women swear by Gaviscon."
Unfortunately it's a case of waiting it out until then!
Grace Walsh is a Features Writer for Goodto.com, covering breaking news health stories during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as lifestyle and entertainment topics. She has worked in media since graduating from the University of Warwick in 2019 with a degree in Classical Civilisation and a year spent abroad in Italy. It was here that Grace caught the bug for journalism, after becoming involved in the university’s student newspaper and radio station.
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