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Pregnancy tips: Heartburn 101

Heartburn is very common during pregnancy. It affects 8/10 women at some point during their 9 months and can be pretty unpleasant. It’s been found that around 1/4 experience it in their first trimester, 1/3 in their second trimester and 3/4 in their third trimester. So, whilst some things get better as your pregnancy progresses, this is, unfortunately, likely to get worse. Although it’s harmless, it can be quite uncomfortable (and we’re sure you’re already uncomfortable enough). Thankfully there are some solutions and remedies that have been tried and tested. We’ve put together some of the best that may help ease your pain. We’ve also taken a look at what heartburn is, so that we can all understand it a little better.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is caused by acid reflux. This is where acid from your stomach rises up through your food pipe (oesophagus), irritating it. This happens when a small muscle, located where the food pipe meets the stomach, is weak or too relaxed. Its job is to let food into the stomach and to stop food and acids from coming back out, but if it is weak, the stomach’s contents are able to flow upwards. It can leave you with pain or a burning feeling in your chest and/or throat. It can also cause a hoarse voice, sickness, bloating, an unpleasant taste in your mouth and bad breath – not fun!

Heartburn is particularly common during pregnancy as progesterone – a hormone that relaxes muscles and prepares your body for labour – relaxes that little muscle that keeps acid in your stomach. It can also become more common later in pregnancy; as your baby grows, it can push on your organs, slow down digestion and push stomach acid upwards.

Tips to reduce it

If you’re suffering with heartburn during pregnancy, there are some tricks you can try to help reduce it. It may be a struggle, but just remember that it will all be worth it when you meet your little one.

Look at what and how you eat

  • Avoid the foods that trigger your acid reflux. Generally, fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, citrus fruits, etc. are found to be common triggers. Just remember that not everyone has the same triggers.
  • Eat small but frequent meals as they’re easier to digest. They will put less pressure on your stomach which has less space to expand.
  • Liquid foods (soups, smoothies, yoghurt) are also easier to digest.
  • Chew slowly and thoroughly.
  • Drink water in between meals rather than with them.
  • Let gravity work its magic - stand or sit after eating, or try going for a walk
  • Avoid eating 2-3 hour before bed.

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Think about position and posture

  • Lying down and bending over are common triggers, so try to stay upright or have your head elevated as much as possible.
  • Try raising your head when you sleep, making sure it’s above the level of your stomach to let acid flow downwards. A wedge shaped pillow works wonders for this.
  • Sleep on your left side to raise your oesophagus above your stomach. You should start sleeping on your left side in your second trimester anyway to improve the flow of blood and nutrients to your baby. A pregnancy pillow can help with this.
  • Although it’s important to do gentle exercise throughout pregnancy, to keep heartburn at bay, you should avoid exercises that involve lots of bending or lying down.

Talk to your doctor about medication

  • Some antacids that contain calcium can be used during pregnancy. Just remember that too much calcium can block the absorption of iron so shouldn’t be taken at the same time as iron supplements (if you’ve been advised to take them).
  • Some heartburn medications can lead to nausea. They should be avoided if you’re at risk of high blood pressure or preeclampsia, so talk to your healthcare professional before taking any.
  • There are also some medications that can make heartburn worse, such as antidepressants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. But you shouldn’t stop taking prescribed medication without first consulting your doctor.

Other tips

  • Wear loose fitting clothes, particularly in your third trimester – anything to reduce putting extra pressure on your tummy.
  • Some pregnant women find that relaxation techniques (yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.) can help with reducing symptoms.

Things to look out for

Sometimes heartburn can produce the same symptoms as other complications or digestive problems.

  • If the pain seems to stay at the top of your tummy, it may be a sign of preeclampsia.
  • If the pain is more towards the upper right area of your tummy and it’s coupled with sickness, you may have a pregnancy related liver problem.

If you’re suffering with heartburn in pregnancy, then hang in there – it will be worth it once you meet your bundle of joy. Let us know if you have any questions or further tips on dealing with heartburn during pregnancy!

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