What is it?
Heartburn often feels like a burning sensation in your upper digestive tract, primarily your throat and stomach. You may experience heartburn while pregnant because during pregnancy, progesterone relaxes the smooth muscles in your digestive tract. That allows more acid to pass into your esophagus from your stomach, irritating your esophagus's lining. Digestion is also slowed in pregnancy to allow your body more time to absorb and deliver nutrients to you and your growing baby.As your pregnancy progresses, the physical expansion of your uterus puts pressure on your stomach often, making heartburn worse.
Myth: heartburn and a newborn’s hair
You may have heard about a connection between heartburn severity and the amount of hair an infant is born with. Interestingly, there may be some evidence linking the amount of hair a newborn has with heartburn symptoms, but the study sample is small and further exploration of this connection is needed. Importantly, having heartburn will not affect your baby's development.
How common is it?
How long does it last?
Most people will have mild to moderate symptoms at some point during their pregnancy. Heartburn is more common as your pregnancy progresses into the second and third trimesters due to increasing progesterone and your growing uterus.
What can I do about it?
First, look at your eating and drinking habits, as those can affect your likelihood of experiencing heartburn. Talk to your healthcare provider if heartburn prevents you from eating, drinking, or engaging in daily activities.
Eat smaller meals and hydrate often
Consider breaking large meals into smaller meals and snacks. Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly might also help, as breaking food down by chewing is the first step in digestion.
- The more you chew your food and allow the enzymes in your saliva to begin to help the digestion process, the less work your stomach will have to do.
Eat mild, bland, low-fat foods
If you’re experiencing heartburn, try monitoring which foods aggravate your symptoms and cut back or eliminate them from your diet. It can help to keep a food diary to document what you eat throughout your day and rate the heartburn on a scale of 1-10. Common culprits include foods that are fatty, acidic, and spicy, and sugary drinks—including carbonated beverages.
Consider a “food curfew”
If you experience issues with heartburn mostly at night (which is common because your horizontal body position at bedtime can make it easier for acid to rise), try eating dinner and snacks earlier in the evening, ideally three hours before bed.
Try sitting with your head above your heart
After you eat, try to avoid lying down for a few hours. Instead, you can sit, stand, or go for a walk. If you need to lie down, try placing some pillows under your shoulders to elevate your head and shoulders and prevent acid from rising into your esophagus.
Try chewing gum
Wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothing
Try wearing loose clothing that isn’t restrictive. Tight-fitting clothing can put additional pressure on your stomach and digestive tract. Maternity underwear that is stretchy or low-cut will be less restrictive and able to accommodate your changing body.
Consider pregnancy-safe over-the-counter medicines
If your heartburn is consistently troublesome even when you’ve tried the suggestions above, talk to your healthcare provider about medication options that are safe to use during pregnancy. Some over-the-counter options, like an antacid containing calcium (like Tums), are not absorbed into your bloodstream and are safe to use during pregnancy. They also provide calcium supplementation, which is beneficial for maternal and fetal bone health and doesn’t have any side effects. Famotidine (example: Pepcid AC) is another commonly used and safe medication that reduces stomach acid. Talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms compromise your quality of life.
When should I be worried?
Heartburn is a common symptom during pregnancy, and although it can be uncomfortable, it’s not something to be concerned about if your symptoms are mild. Severe heartburn can occur during pregnancy or complicate a case of reflux you had before pregnancy.
- Significant pain in the epigastric area (at the base of your sternum) can signify a less common but more severe form of preeclampsia that requires immediate medical attention.
If attempts to manage heartburn or alleviate the symptoms don’t help, especially if your symptoms prevent you from following your regular diet, or compromise your sleep, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options.