Heartburn during pregnancy

Causes & Symptoms

Pregnancy is usually an exciting time for expectant mums, their partners, and their family and friends. However, the body starts changing almost immediately, and some women may suffer from heartburn and indigestion during early pregnancy. For those who experience heartburn in pregnancy (typically around two thirds of pregnant women), it tends to become more common as the pregnancy progresses.

Here’s how heartburn can manifest in pregnancy and what you can do to reduce its impact on your day-to-day life.

What is Heartburn During Pregnancy?

Heartburn is a common issue for pregnant women which involves acidic stomach contents being regurgitated back up the individual’s oesophagus, which can cause burning in the throat and chest. Symptoms are often worse immediately after eating or while lying down.

The reasons for the increase in heartburn in pregnancy are complicated and not completely understood, with multiple factors potentially at play:

  1. It has been thought that the expanding uterus places pressure on the lower oesophageal sphincter (the ring of muscle at the base of the oesophagus), causing it to relax and allow stomach contents to flow up into it
  2. The surge in the pregnancy hormones oestrogen and progesterone may affect the pattern of relaxation on the lower oesophageal sphincter, allowing acid reflux
  3. Delayed emptying of the stomach may also play a role in acid reflux

What are Some Common Heartburn Symptoms in Pregnancy?

The symptoms of heartburn during pregnancy are no different to those experienced by the general population. The experience of heartburn is of a burning sensation around the sternum (breastbone), which may extend up as high as the throat.

What typically causes heartburn for pregnant women?

As mentioned above, the causes of heartburn are complex and not wholly understood, may be related to the pattern of relaxation on the lower oesophageal sphincter (the ring of muscle at the base of the oesophagus).

There are a number of everyday recommendations typically given to people who experience heartburn and wish to avoid or alleviate symptoms, including:

  • Eat smaller meals
  • Sleep in a more upright position
  • Avoid food 2-3 hours before bed, especially acidic and spicy food
  • Drink fluids mostly between meals instead of during the meal

How to help alleviate heartburn in pregnancy

The first line of management of heartburn is lifestyle changes. Eating smaller meals, not eating at night and raising your bedhead are all key steps to take.

In cases of more troublesome symptoms, or if symptoms persist despite lifestyle changes, you may wish to discuss medications with your doctor. There are a variety of such medications, for example, antacids are a fast and effective means to alleviate your heartburn symptoms may be due to their rapid symptom relief. It is important to discuss the most appropriate management of heartburn and any other symptoms with your health care professional.

Conclusion

Always consult your health care professional if you have any questions relating to the suitability of medications during pregnancy or for diet and lifestyle advice. Pregnancy is a special time, so reach out for support so you can enjoy it while it lasts.

Pregnancy FAQs

Heartburn occurs when the contents of your stomach flow back up into the oesophagus (food pipe), causing an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest and throat. Heartburn is a very common symptom during pregnancy – reflux is estimated to occur in 30-50% of pregnancies, with the incidence up to 80% in some groups.* It may start in early pregnancy because of changing hormone levels and can often become worse and more frequent as pregnancy progresses.

Symptoms of reflux – heartburn and indigestion – usually ease after pregnancy but may come back in following pregnancies. Thankfully, there are diet and lifestyle adjustments you can make to help manage heartburn, as well as medication if symptoms persist. Always speak to your doctor about what treatment is suitable for you.

While some people will experience heartburn regardless of what they eat, common triggers for heartburn include fatty or spicy foods, coffee, soft drinks, citrus foods, alcohol, chocolate and peppermints. If you find there are foods that are triggering your heartburn, try avoiding them to help manage your symptoms. It may also help to eat smaller, more frequent meals, as eating large meals can also trigger heartburn. You can also try avoiding eating too late at night or lying down within 3 hours after a meal.

For mild indigestion during pregnancy, try making some changes to your diet and lifestyle. If your symptoms persist, you can try an over-the-counter medicine such as Gaviscon Double Strength Liquid which is suitable for relieving indigestion and heartburn in pregnant women. A study found that 90% of pregnant women rated the effectiveness of Gaviscon Double Strength Liquid as “good” or “very good”. See your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your heartburn, or if your symptoms persist.

Indigestion can cause pain and discomfort in the stomach. You can avoid indigestion in pregnancy by making some adjustments to your diet and lifestyle. Try eating smaller meals more frequently, and eat at least 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. Drink fluids mostly between meals rather during your meal. Avoid spicy, fatty foods and caffeinated drinks, as they can trigger heartburn. At home, try raising the head of your bed and sleeping on your left side.

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