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Heartburn During Pregnancy- Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Home Remedies

Though the name has “heart” in it, heartburn is not related to heart at all. It is a very common condition where acids of the stomach rise to the oesophagus and create a burning sensation. Esophagus refers to the tube which carries swallowed foods to stomach. The acids, which cause heartburn, help to digest food and the stomach is equipped well to be not affected by those acids, but oesophagus is not and this is the reason for the unpleasant, burning sensation. Heartburn during pregnancy is common. Heartburn occurs to 25 to 50 per cent of pregnant women, and it begins during the first or second trimester.

Symptoms of Heartburn During Pregnancy

Different pregnant women experience heartburn differently. But the most common symptoms are:

  • It starts as a burning sensation in the upper abdomen and then it advances towards the chest
  • Though the time may vary for different women, it generally occurs after eating and while lying down
  • Most cases have been reported to experience a sour taste in the mouth
  • There are instances where the reports say that there have been contents of the stomach in the mouth.

Causes of Heartburn During Pregnancy

The major causes of heartburn during pregnancy are:

The burning sensation of the heartburn is due to the relaxation of the lower oesophagal sphincter which keeps the contents of the stomach in their place.

  • Relaxation of the valve: During pregnancy, hormones, especially progesterone, relaxes the valve between the stomach and the oesophagus. This causes the valve to become unable to prevent stomach acids from entering into the oesophagus.
  • Relaxin hormone: This is a hormone which ensures a smooth delivery, slows digestion in pregnant women. Slower digestion means, the food stays in the stomach for a longer period and this, in turn, triggers more acid production. An excessive amount of acids might be a cause of an enhanced number of heartburns.
  • Growing pressure: The pressure created by the uterus is proportionate to the growing size of it. As the baby increases its size, the pressure on the stomach makes heart burns even more frequent.

Risk factors for Heartburn During Pregnancy

Being pregnant is the major risk factor of heartburns. The relaxation of lower oesophagal sphincter during pregnancy is the most viable reason for heartburn. However there are other reasons for heartburn as well, such as,

  • Eating harmful foods like fried foods and foods which have acidic contents are more likely to cause heart burns.
  • Not chewing food properly. The less chewed they are, the more difficult is it to digest them. One should chew properly and by taking time.
  • Lying down immediately after taking a meal can increase the chances of having heart burns.

Prevention for Heartburn During Pregnancy-

Some preventive measures can be taken to minimise the number and intensity of heartburns during pregnancy:

  • Raising the head of the bed: Raising the head of the bed by using 6 to 8 blocks can be proven to be helpful. One can raise her upper body by using pillows. It must be kept in mind to elevate the whole upper body. The elevation of the upper body can make it sure that the acids of stomach stay where they are supposed to be.
  • Lying in a specific posture: In the cases of heartburns, one can take help of proper posture to reduce the intensity. Lying on the left side is said to decrease acid reflux. In this position, it becomes difficult for the acids to reach oesophagus.
  • Lying on a recliner: If sleeping in a certain position seems to be cumbersome, one can try to sleep on a recliner chair, in 45-degree angle or a greater angle.
  • Avoidance of certain foods: Some foods trigger heartburn more than others. It should be taken care of that these foods are avoided as much as possible. These foods include coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, citrus juices, fried foods.
  • Taking less food in a greater number of times: A pregnant woman’s stomach capacity is generally reduced than others. For this, eating too much food at one go can be fatal. It is recommended to take small portions of food throughout the day. It is safer to take six mini meals instead of three large meals. Also, more food means more time to digest. And the more food stays in the stomach, and the more acids are produced.
  • Not lying down immediately after taking dinner: Most of the people have this tendency to lie down immediately after having dinner. This only enhances the chance of getting heart burns even more. The last meal of the day should be taken by 8 and if it is possible, taking a stroll after dinner can help.
  • Not consuming liquids after day’s last meal: After taking the final meal of the day in the evening, it is recommended not to drink any more of any liquids.
  • Chewing gum: Chewing gum during heartburn can be preventive. Chewing gums aggravates the production of saliva, which contains bicarbonate. This bicarbonate can neutralise the acids which have been released into the oesophagus.
  • Consuming liquid foods more: Liquid foods pose lesser problems than solid foods. They are digested quicker than solid foods. Choose foods which are tasty yet packed with protein, such as smoothies, milkshakes, protein shakes.
  • Chewing food well: It is important to chew to solid foods well, so they become easy to digest.

Treatment for Heartburn During Pregnancy

Usually, heartburn can be treated with over-the-counter antacids, but when there is pregnancy involved, it is best to consume medicines which are approved by a physician. Heartburn is very common during pregnancy, and they can be averted by taking simple steps of prevention.

However, if the number and intensity of heartburns keep increasing, it is recommended to consult with a physician to diagnose any underlying reasons and to consume medicines which can pose no harm to the health of the fetus or the expectant mother.

Antacids are most commonly used medicines to treat heart burns. They can be consumed after taking meals. It is important to note that there are two kinds of antacids which contain magnesium and aluminium and they should be alternatively taken to avoid any possibility of diarrhoea or constipation.

If the heart burns are serious and the antacids are not able alone, then alginic acids can also be added, according to the advice of the physician.

Some safe medicines for pregnancy are:

  • Antacids, alginic acid, and sucralfate. However, antacids can interfere with the iron present in the body, and as iron is an important nutrient for the fetus to grow, it is recommended to check with the physician before consuming. Women who consume antacids during pregnancy may need to take iron supplements.
  • Sucralfate coats and protects the inner lining of the oesophagus. It is more potent in an acidic environment, and it should be taken one or half an hour before or after consuming antacids for obtaining the maximum effect. Studies show that sucralfate successfully relieves heartburns in pregnant women.
  • Some antacids which contain magnesium should be taken carefully as they can slow down labour if taken just before going into labour.
  • If the pregnant patient has troubles consuming antacids, then H2 antagonists can be given. H2 antagonists like cimetidine, ranitidine, famotidine can also be consumed to avoid heartburns. H2 antagonists have shown no signs of adversary towards studies where they were tested on pregnant animals.
  • Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs are also favourable for women, and these include lansoprazole, rabeprazole, pantoprazole, esomeprazole. They have also shown satisfactory results when tested on pregnant animals. However, as they are relatively new medicines, there is not enough evidence to declare them safe for pregnant women.

Any of the above-mentioned medicines should not be taken without the proper supervision of the physician.

Home Remedies for Heartburn During Pregnancy

Apart from the prescribed medicines, one can opt for several home remedies to treat heartburn, such as:

  • Ginger tea: As heartburn often causes a sore throat, drinking warm ginger tea can have a soothing effect. It also helps in digestion and regulating stomach acids.
  • Chamomile tea: This soothing tea can offer to lessen anxiety and better digestion. It can also help to regulate stomach acids. However, if someone has trouble sleeping, then she should avoid chamomile tea as it can keep one awake longer than usual.
  • Dandelion tea: Also useful to regulate stomach acids, dandelion tea is another miracle of nature to treat heartburn in the home. People with blood pressure medication should avoid this, however, as it can interfere with the medications.
  • Eating yogurt or drinking a glass of milk: Dairy products can be useful while dealing with heartburn.
  • Chewing gums: Chewing gums produce more saliva, and the bicarbonate of saliva helps to neutralise the acids which have risen to the oesophagus.
  • Essential oils: They do not have any direct function over stomach acidity regulation. Although their soothing scent can calm the body and the patient can attain a calming effect.

Sagar Papneja

For me, health is about sustainable living and consuming environmentally conscious food; I am a vegan.