Heartburn is one of the most common complaints of pregnant women. It can be so incredibly painful as to be nearly debilitating, interrupting sleep and making meals unpleasant. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid and to treat heartburn that are safe during pregnancy.
What Is Heartburn?
Heartburn is caused by stomach acids rising up in to the esophagus, also called reflux. It happens when the sphincter at the opening of the esophagus relaxes, allowing the acids that break down food in the stomach to come up. This creates a burning feeling that, if left untreated, can eventually damage the esophagus. This type of chronic reflux is a serious problem that needs to be treated by a doctor. Fortunately, reflux in pregnant women is just a temporary condition.
A number of factors are to blame for heartburn during pregnancy, most of them not controllable. The changes in hormone levels, new sensitivities to food, and the pressure being put on the stomach by the growing baby can all contribute to heartburn. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to reduce your chances of getting heartburn, and to treat it when it does occur.
Diet and Heartburn
What you eat, as well as how much you eat, can affect the odds of having problems with reflux. Eating meals that are too large, fried or very spicy can all cause heartburn to occur. Try to eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than large ones all at once. Take your time eating, and make sure your food is thoroughly chewed before you swallow. Eating more slowly will also prevent overeating by allowing your body time to send the signal to the brain that the stomach is full.
You should avoid lying down after eating, and try instead to take a short walk to encourage digestion. Try not to eat within a few hours of bedtime. If you notice that you get heartburn most often after certain types of foods, you might have to avoid those foods for the duration of your pregnancy.
Treatment of Heartburn
Before you try medications for heartburn, there are a few natural remedies that might be beneficial. If you find that your heartburn occurs mainly when you lie down, try to sleep propped up on extra pillows. This elevation will allow gravity to help keep stomach acids down where they belong.
Some foods, such as milk and peppermint, seem to help with heartburn by neutralizing stomach acids. In fact, many over the counter heartburn medications contain calcium, just like milk.
When simple remedies don’t work, you should be able to use over the counter heartburn meds, many of which are safe during pregnancy. As with any medication, talk to your doctor before taking anything. If you have severe heartburn that is resistant to these medications and is disrupting your life, your doctor can prescribe a stronger medication that is safe for your baby and will alleviate your symptoms.
As with many of the less pleasant parts of pregnancy, your heartburn should disappear after your baby is born. Hopefully however, you won’t have to live with it for the duration of your pregnancy. By changing your diet and eating habits and using a few simple preventative methods, you might be lucky enough to avoid most bouts with heartburn. If not, there are treatment options that are safe and effective. Don’t suffer with bad heartburn needlessly – talk to your doctor!