A burning sensation in the chest, an acidic taste in the throat, chest pain … all these symptoms describe heartburn, the all too common pregnancy discomfort that’s particularly prominent during the first and third trimesters. Before you resort to a passive here we go again reaction, take a few minutes to become well versed in the matter.
Let’s get physical: Why it happens
Heartburn is considerably more common in pregnant women than in the general adult population. According to Karen Woods, MD, a gastroenterologist at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, hormones of early pregnancy serve to relax the uterus, preventing miscarriage and menstrual periods. However, those same hormones also relax the muscles of the esophagus, occasionally allowing the regurgitation of stomach acid into the esophagus and resulting in symptoms of heartburn.
During the second trimester, heartburn usually lays low and ceases to cause too much disturbance. Enjoy the brief break from the burn while you can, since it has a tendency to reappear during the final trimester. Near the end of baby’s incubation period, the increased pressure on the stomach from the enlarged uterus is to blame for the undesirable sting, suggests Woods. “When your stomach becomes full and baby presses on it, fluid can more easily be pushed into your esophagus,” once again triggering that fiery pain.
Try not to start the fire: Ways to prevent it
Physical changes in your pregnant body may leave you more susceptible to heartburn than usual—and to an extent, complete prevention is impossible—but you can take a couple precautions to help ward off those unpleasant irritations.
Eat often, early and wisely. Consider consuming small, frequent meals throughout the day to prevent your tummy from becoming overly full. Also try to finish food two to three hours before hitting the hay, so your meals can digest completely before you assume a reflux-prone horizontal position. Avoiding citrusy, spicy, fried and fatty foods—in addition to caffeine and alcohol—may also curb the burn.
Sleep at a slope. Woods recommends using a foam wedge—or even 6-inch garden cement blocks—to elevate the head of your bed, allowing gravity to keep those stomach acids down where they belong. She advises against relying on pillows to prop yourself, since doing so often results in a middle of the night slump and can actually increase reflux by creating more pressure on the stomach.
Just beat it: How to deal
If you’re already in the midst of a heartburn onset, you may want to take antacids. Over-the-counter varieties often provide convenient and effective relief; talk to your healthcare provider about which are safe during pregnancy. In instances of severe symptoms, she may also recommend prescription medications that have been deemed safe for you and your baby. Whatever measures you must take, find comfort in knowing you won’t be dependent on TUMS forever. The return to your usual hormones and typical uterus size means you can look forward to heartburn occurring on a much less frequent basis postpartum.
Still can’t stop the burn? Give these tricks a try.
- Chewing gum after eating will increase saliva production, which may neutralize any regurgitated acid.
- Bend your knees to squat down, instead of leaning over at the waist.
- Maintain a weight within the guidelines your doctor set for you, since extra pounds often correlate with increased heartburn.
- Quit smoking (you should have already done this!).
- Avoid tight or restrictive clothing that might encourage chest pain or stomachache.
- Drink plenty of water between meals, but not during.