How Do I Prevent Heartburn in Pregnancy?

Feeling the burn..

When I was pregnant with my first child, I experienced heartburn and acid reflux in a way that I would have never anticipated.  I think it is one of those things you hear can be miserable, but its easy to write off as a simple nuisance that someone else has to deal with.

My husband deals with acid reflux quite a bit, and to be honest, I never really extended himTHAT much sympathy.

UNTIL I found myself jumping out of bed in the middle of the night feeling like I was going to die on my own stomach acid and my throat was going to burn. (and jumping out of bed is no easy feat in the third trimester).

I found myself desperate to find ways to help cure this, as well as apologized a million times over for not taking my husband’s complaints more seriously.  My bad 🙂

Why do we experience heartburn and/or acid reflux in pregnancy?

There are a couple reasons some women experience this, sometimes for the first time in their lives.

The Growing Baby

First of all, there is the physical consequences of a growing baby in your uterus.  There is only so much room in your abdomen, and your stomach and intestines only have one way to go….up.

You may find that you get full much faster as your pregnancy progresses because your stomach cannot expand like it used to.

As the stomach is pushed up, it is much easier for its contents, including stomach acid, to make its way up.  

Hormones

We can blame so many things on those dang old hormones….

Relaxin is a hormone produced in pregnancy that is meant to, you guessed it, relax things.  It is important to help loosen ligaments and muscles to make room for a growing baby, but it also means that other things will be relaxed.  The sphincter that normally stops stomach acid from coming up can be affected by relaxin and may not stay shut, especially when you are laying down.

Progesterone is another hormone important in maintaining pregnancy, but it can also slow down digestion. As your body works to process new food, it may take longer for your stomach contents to empty, leading to gastrointestinal issues including heartburn.

Things that can help prevent heartburn

There are certain things you can do to help prevent heartburn during pregnancy, although it may get more difficult as your due date approaches.  Some things may work better than others but make sure to try and

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals
  • Consume lots of liquids, especially water
  • Sleep on your left side, and elevate your bed if possible. (You can put a couple books at the head of the bed under the posts to elevate the whole thing).
  • Eat dinner at least 3-4 hours before you go to bed so food has time to empty from stomach before laying down
  • Avoid spicy foods, acidic foods and caffeine

If you are experiencing symptoms still, you can try some of these natural remedies to help alleviate heartburn before resorting to over the counter drugs such as tums or zantac. Most of these are whole foods you can add to your diet, however, if you have any questions please make sure to consult with your OB or midwife.

  • Adding yogurt or kefir to your diet to add healthy probiotics to support a healthy gut
  • Fresh papaya or a papaya enzyme tablet (buy at health store or on amazon) can help aid digestion. Enzymes help speed along chemical reactions needed for digestion.
  • Ginger: A great way to help calm gastrointestinal issues, ginger can be boiled and made into a tea or eaten whole if preferred
  • Fennel seeds: From an ayurvedic perspective, fennel is cooling and sweet, which means it is an excellent way to help pacify pitta (the fire dosha) that can become aggravated and lead to more heartburn.  You can make a fennel tea by adding a 1 Tsp of fennel seed in one cup of hot water  (not boiling) and sipping on it throughout the day.

The Final Stretch

Waiting for baby can be hard, and symptoms like heartburn or acid reflux don’t make it much easier.

Although you may not be able to completely eliminate heartburn, you can lessen its effects and make it more bearable.

As you approach the final weeks of pregnancy, check out some of my tips for waiting in the final weeks (or beyond!)

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