Why do pregnant women get heartburn?
Heartburn, a disorder that involves a burning feeling in the chest, is often developed during pregnancy. Up to 50 percent of women experience heartburn at some point during their pregnancy. Although it can happen at any point during pregnancy, heartburn tends to occur more frequently in the third trimester.
There are a number of reasons why heartburn is more common during pregnancy – these include:
- The hormone progesterone is secreted in higher amounts to support the pregnancy. Progesterone causes the valve that separates the food pipe from the stomach to relax, causing heartburn.
- The growing uterus starts to put pressure on the stomach and other internal organs in later pregnancy. That pressure from growth can also push food and stomach acid back into the food pipe causing heartburn.
- During pregnancy the lower oesophageal sphincter(ring of muscle) that acts like a gate between your stomach and your oesophagus relaxes, allowing stomach acid to leak back up.
- Women are also more likely to be affected with heartburn if they have suffered with it before pregnancy or have been pregnant before.
How to prevent heartburn?
Changes to diet and lifestyle may be enough to control heartburn and indigestion, particularly if the symptoms are mild. Certain foods or beverages tend to trigger the symptoms. Avoiding those foods can help to prevent the discomfort associated with heartburn. Foods that tend to trigger heartburn are:
- Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits, and pineapple
- Carbonated drinks, or sodas
- Fatty and greasy foods
- Spicy foods
Other top tips to prevent heartburn include:
- As well as avoiding these foods, it can be helpful to eat smaller meals more often. Instead of three big meals per day, five or six smaller meals may be better.
- Staying upright for at least 20 to 30 minutes after eating can prevent the stomach contents from backing up into the food pipe.
- At night, it is better not to eat within 3 hours of going to bed. Propping up the head of the bed or using extra pillows to keep the head elevated can help prevent heartburn that occurs at night.
- It is also important to avoid smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Neither is healthy during pregnancy, and they can both contribute to heartburn.
- Drinking a glass of milk can help to reduce symptoms. Low-fat or non-fat milk is better because whole milk is rich in fat, and this can worsen heartburn.
When should I see a doctor?
If you have severe heartburn, or if changes to your diet and lifestyle don’t work, there are various over the counter medications available from your local pharmacy to help calm symptoms. It is always recommended to discuss this with your pharmacist, midwife or GP before taking any medication especially during pregnancy. As part of your prenatal care it is important you see a doctor or your midwife on a regular basis this should be mentioned to the doctor at a routine visit.