Pregnancy Heartburn: Tame the Flame

By Published On: December 9th, 2021Tags: ,

Many moms-to-be experience heartburn due to an increase in pregnancy hormones like progesterone that can slow down the digestive system. It’s an especially common nuisance during the third trimester thanks to a growing uterus, which puts pressure on the stomach and surrounding organs. Whether heartburn’s uncomfortable burning sensation keeps you up most nights or has recently stymied your penchant for spicy foods, we’re here to offer some welcome assistance as you try to tame the flame.

Common Culprits

While your heartburn triggers will be unique to you, there are a handful of foods and drinks that tend to activate acid indigestion more often. Allow us to introduce the top offenders.

1 | Greasy, Fatty Foods

Fried or fatty foods (which make up the majority of fast foods) are big-time heartburn triggers for many people, and the same goes for pregnant women. The reason behind this has to do with how fat gets digested.

“Fat digests more slowly and sits in the stomach longer. It also relaxes the esophageal sphincter, which makes you more susceptible to symptoms of heartburn,” explains Michelle Dudash, RDN, Cordon Bleu-certified chef and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families.

Dudash says oven-fried french fries make a great substitute for the fast food version. And because oven-fried means much less oil, you’re less likely to suffer later. If late-night cravings lead you (or your partner) to the nearest drive-thru, don’t fret. Simply avoiding the large value meals and ordering a la carte instead (like a small fry or a small burger) can help you avoid acid indigestion after-effects, says Dudash.

2 | Orange Juice

This popular breakfast beverage, and other citrus juices, can trigger heartburn symptoms because of its high acid content.

“Acidic beverages—which can also include sodas and other sweetened beverages—increase the acidity in your stomach contents and in your body. Low pH fruits contribute to more acidity in the body and cause heartburn,” says Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Dudash recommends swapping your regular citrus beverage for carrot juice, which is lower in acid, to experience fewer symptoms. Or look for lower-acid orange juices, which you’ll find marketed on the front of a package label.

3 | Rich Desserts

Frosted cakes, cheesecakes, pies—all on the heartburn offender list, according to Dudash and Ross. And for the same reason as fast foods: high fat content. What to do when your baby (or a no-good, horrible, very bad day) leaves you craving something sweet? Make your own cake—then eat it, too. Choose a healthier baking mix (Dudash likes Simple Mills made with almond flour), and go light on the frosting. Or pair a plain cake with fresh berries and a drizzle of chocolate syrup, and your stomach will likely thank you with fewer, if any, after-effects.

4 | Coffee

Your growing bump may have you abstaining (or imbibing fewer) cups of joe these days. But if not, this may have you reconsidering your daily coffee intake. According to Dudash, coffee is a common heartburn irritant. Ross explains why: “Coffee relaxes the valve at the top of the stomach, allowing acid to enter or reflux into the esophagus. This causes the burning sensation in your upper chest.”

Noncaffeinated or herbal teas and water are all great alternatives. For the caffeine die-hards, Dudash suggests looking for low-acid coffees, which could cause fewer symptoms.

5 | Tomato Products

Et tu, spaghetti? Indeed, spaghetti sauce, or any foods incorporating tomato products, can induce an uncomfortable burning feeling because of their high acidity. Don’t worry, we’d never suggest forgoing pasta for your entire pregnancy. (We’re not crazy.) But Dudash says a creative dietary strategy can go a long way toward easing any uncomfortable symptoms. Serve pasta sauce on the side, and just dip your pasta into the sauce. That’ll give you the same taste but have you ingesting less. If you’re up for something new, Dudash suggests making a tomato-free sauce with olive oil, Parmesan, and mild herbs and spices, like an Italian seasoning.

Still not feeling sufficient relief? Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to help prevent heartburn, too. There are some over-the-counter antacids like Tums and Maalox that can help; your healthcare provider can make recommendations for a safe and effective heartburn medication. Calcium carbonate based products are generally safe during pregnancy, but too much calcium can lead to constipation and other side effects, so make sure to seek medical advice.

Lifestyle Changes

Still not feeling sufficient relief? Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to help prevent heartburn, too. Your lifestyle and daily habits also play a role in how likely you are to experience these unpleasant symptoms.

1 | Eat More Often

It’s true: More frequent meals (as long as they’re smaller meals) make heartburn less likely than just eating large meals three times a day. Eating small meals can also help you manage other pesky pregnancy symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

2 | Drink Less

According to Ross, drinking large amounts while you’re eating may increase your risk of acid reflux and heartburn. While healthy hydration is great for your growing baby, paying close attention to when you’re drinking can ease heartburn symptoms.

3 | Watch Weight Gain

Keep in mind that heartburn gets worse with weight gain. “While you need to gain a healthy amount of weight for pregnancy, which your healthcare provider will advise you on, too much can lead to pregnancy problems such as heartburn,” says Dudash. So aim to gain only what your doctor recommends.

4 | Skip the Bedtime Snacks

Eating too close to bedtime—or lying down right after you’ve finished eating—can cause stomach acids to slosh upward, creating acid indigestion and (even more) sleepless nights. You can counteract this tendency by elevating the head of your bed slightly.

5 | Wear Loose-Fitting Clothing

Need another excuse to wear sweatpants all day? Because tight-fitting clothes can increase the pressure on your stomach and abdomen, loose-fitting garments can also help prevent heartburn.

By Juliann Schaeffer