Learn about one of the most common side effects of pregnancy, heartburn.

Heartburn the Unpleasant Surprise of Pregnancy

Many women complain of heartburn during pregnancy. Heartburn during pregnancy is in fact one of the most common side effects of pregnancy. If you're one of the lucky few who has never experienced heartburn or indigestion, you are in for an unpleasant surprise during pregnancy.

Heartburn, indigestion, and other gastrointestinal discomforts are common in the second and third trimesters. Even if you've never experienced these symptoms before, they may plague you from this point onward.

What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is the burning feeling that you get in your chest, right behind the breastbone. Sometimes the burning sensation comes from your stomach and it rises up toward your neck. Heartburn can be accompanied by a sour taste in your mouth, or the sensation that vomit is coming up your throat.

What's Indigestion?
During pregnancy, indigestion can occur with heartburn. You have indigestion if your stomach is upset, or if you're feeling bloated, gassy, or very full.

Causes of Heartburn and Indigestion in Pregnancy

Heartburn and indigestion can be uncomfortable and even painful, but they are both normal pregnancy symptoms. They are caused by the physical changes in your body, accompanied by elevated pregnancy hormones.

Normally, food travels down your esophagus into your stomach. A circular valve near the bottom of the esophagus separates the two. When you swallow down food or take a sip of water, the valve relaxes so that the food can travel to your stomach.

When you're not eating, the valve closes shut so that stomach acid can't rise back up. However, if the valve happens to relax and you aren't eating or drinking, stomach acid can flow back up the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. This is heartburn.

When you're pregnant, your hormones (especially progesterone) relax all the muscles in your body, including this valve in your esophagus. As a result, heartburn becomes a very common occurrence during pregnancy.

In addition, the elevated levels of pregnancy hormones can also slow down your digestion, making it more likely for you to feel bloated, gassy, and full.

Another reason that indigestion and heartburn are so common in the second trimester has to do with your growing baby and expanding uterus. As you pack on the pounds, your uterus pushes upward, pushing against your abdominal cavity and abdominal organs. This can push food and stomach acid back up into your esophagus.

Pregnancy Health Section

How to Prevent Heartburn and Indigestion

Throughout pregnancy, you'll learn that certain things can contribute to heartburn and indigestion. For example, greasy or fattening foods can make you feel gassy and uncomfortable. Say goodbye to Mexican food – onions, garlic, and other spicy foods can be heartburn triggers.

You may not be able to completely eliminate heartburn or indigestion during pregnancy, but you can take steps to prevent it. Consider the following tips:

  • Avoid eating large meals.
    Eating smaller meals throughout the day and chewing your food thoroughly can make it easier for your digestive system to break everything down.

  • You should avoid any foods that trigger heartburn.
    Food triggers include spicy, greasy, and fatty foods. You may want to avoid chocolate and caffeine-laced foods. They can trigger heartburn and indigestion during pregnancy.

  • Don't drink when you're eating.
    Try to drink water and other fluids after your meal. When you drink, you should sip from the cup or glass. Stay away from straws during pregnancy – straws can make you gassy.

  • Resist the temptation to lie down.
    Wait an hour or two after eating before you lie down. Why not do light house work, or a walk around the neighborhood? You want to give your body time to digest your food. Lying down immediately after eating may trigger heartburn.

  • Chew a piece of gum after you eat your meal.
    Your saliva is a base, and it can actually neutralize your stomach acid.

  • Gain the recommended pregnancy weight for your body size.
    Extra pounds places increased pressure on your belly, which will cause you to feel even more abdominal discomfort. (The recommended weight gain for the average sized woman is 25 to 35 pounds.)

Treatments to Reduce the Symptoms of Heartburn

The three main medicines to reduce heartburn symptoms are:

Antacids
  • Calcium carbonate (sample brand name: Tums®)

  • Aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, and simethicone (sample brand name: Maalox®).
Histamine blockers
  • Ranitidine (brand name: Zantac®)

  • Famotidine (brand name: Pepcid®)

  • Cimetidine (brand name: Tagamet®)
Proton pump inhibitors
  • Omeprazole (brand name: Prilosec®)

  • Esomeprazole (brand name: Nexium®)

  • Pantoprazole (brand name: Protonix®)

  • Lansoprazole (brand name: Prevacid®)

  • Dexlansoprazole (brand name: Dexilant®)

  • Rabeprazole (brand name: AcipHex®)

All three of these medicines reduce or block the production of stomach acid. Doctors usually recommend that pregnant women first try antacids to see if this helps reduce the burning sensation and discomfort. You can buy antacids without a prescription and they are considered relatively safe to use during pregnancy,

When antacids don’t help your doctor will have you try a histamine blocker or proton pump inhibitor. These medicines work better than antacids and most can be bought without a prescription.

Before you use any over-the-counter medicines for acid reflux, check in with your healthcare provider first. Most of the medicines are considered relatively safe to use during pregnancy, but you should always check the label and ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions.
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