Heartburn is also known as indigestion or acid reflux. It occurs when the stomach acid regularly moves back into the tube linking your mouth and stomach (oesophagus). This acid reflux can infuriate the lining of your oesophagus.
Causes of heartburn
Indigestion is common during pregnancy because of:
- Growing baby pressing against your stomach.
- Pregnancy hormonal changes, changing oestrogen levels lead to an increase in cortisol levels, which can lead to digestive problems like bloating and even heartburn.
- The valve at the stomach entrance relaxes, preventing it from closing as it should. This allows the acidic stomach contents to move up into the oesophagus, thus causing heartburn.
- Indigestion can happen if you had heartburn before you were pregnant as well as if you have been pregnant before.
- It is more common in the later stages of pregnancy.
There is a myth which states that the amount of hair on the baby’s head can cause heartburn, but there is very little research data to support this.
Symptoms of heartburn
They usually show up soon after drinking or eating, but can also develop over time. In pregnancy, heartburn is usually experienced from around 27 weeks onwards.
Some of these symptoms include:
- Feeling or being sick
- A burning pain in the chest
- Feeling bloated or full
- Difficulty consuming food
How to control and prevent heartburn
- To prevent heartburn, make changes to your diet and even lifestyle. This can be sufficient to reduce the symptoms especially if they are mild.
- Try switching to frequent and modest meals, and include healthy snacks since indigestion can happen if you are too full.
- Try to avoid chocolate, spicy foods, citrus fruits, and fried foods, they can trigger heartburn.
- To understand even further, remember your oesophagus is attached to your stomach on the right side of your belly, therefore try sleeping on your left side to improve circulation of blood flow into your heart and to take the pressure off your lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
- Avoid caffeine.
- Drink fluids after your meals rather than with your meal.
Medicines for heartburn include:
Two medicines which are regularly recommended for pregnant women because they are known not to be harmful to the unborn baby are:
- Ranitidine– a tablet is taken twice a day
- Omeprazole– a tablet is taken once a day
Two other types of medication that are recommended for the treatment of heartburn are:
- Antacids – help in neutralising the acid found in your stomach, can be available over the counter from a pharmacist.
- Alginates – they help stop the acid in the stomach from coming back up the oesophagus, and thus, they relieve indigestion.
It is important to consult your midwife before taking any medication, particularly if you are also taking iron supplements, becauses antacids can stop the iron from being absorbed by the body.
In the case that you are struggling to manage your symptoms, we recommend you see your midwife or doctor.
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- “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 May 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940.
- Hornnes, Peter J., and Claus Kühl. “Gastrointestinal Hormones and Cortisol in Normal Pregnant Women and Women with Gestational Diabetes.” Acta Endocrinologica, vol. 277, 1986, pp. 24–26., doi:10.1530/acta.0.111s0024.
- “Indigestion and Heartburn in Pregnancy.” NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/indigestion-heartburn-pregnant/.
- “Sleep during Pregnancy: Follow These Tips.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 Apr. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/sleep-during-pregnancy/art-20043827.