Despite the name, heartburns have nothing to do with the heart. It is a burning sensation in the throat or chest (or both) when the contents of the stomach move back up into the esophagus (the tube connecting the throat to the stomach).
It is common to have heartburn in pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones can make the valve at the opening of the stomach relax so that it does not close as it should. This lets the acidic stomach contents move up to the esophagus. This condition is known as acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GER). This can get worse later in the pregnancy when the growing uterus presses upon the abdomen region (stomach).
Causes of heartburn during pregnancy
According to a study, up to 45 % of pregnant females experience heartburn. And if a female has a history of heartburn before pregnancy, she is even more likely to have heartburn during pregnancy.
Heartburn can fire up at any point during pregnancy. But it is most common in the second and third trimesters. Experts are not exactly sure what causes heartburn in pregnancy. But, the suspected cause of the problem can be-
Progesterone is the known leading culprit behind pregnancy heartburn. Progesterone hormone nurtures the womb and the baby inside it and acts as a muscle relaxer. In the case of heartburn, this pregnancy hormone can loosen the tight muscle (known as the lower esophageal valve) which closes the stomach off from the esophagus.
When a pregnant female eats or drinks, the muscle normally opens and lets contents into the stomach before closing tightly. But the rushing progesterone levels during pregnancy can make that muscle slack, which can allow stomach acid to backflow up the esophagus and even into the throat, causing heartburn.
The growing baby
As the uterus expands with the growing baby, it competes for space with some of the female’s other organs. The growing uterus places pressure on the stomach, making it more likely to cause heartburns, especially with the stomach full.
The more the uterus grows, the more likely the stomach will get squeezed. This can help explain why heartburn is more common as the female progresses through pregnancy.
Blame progesterone, the stomach contents stick around for longer than normal. As the digestion slows down, and the stomach remains fuller for longer, which increases the chances of heartburn.
10 Proven ways to get relief from heartburn in pregnancy
- Avoid acidic foods such as citrus food items, tomatoes, onions, garlic, caffeine, sodas.
- Avoid fried or fatty foods.
- Eat frequent small meals instead of 3 a day
- Sit up straight while eating
- Do not eat within 3 hours of sleeping
- Do not smoke or drink alcohol (Also Read: Smoking and its implications on pregnancy )
- Elevate your head 6 – 9 inches while sleeping
- Wear loose-fitting clothing
- Avoid drinking water with meals, drink liquids after meals
- Try acupuncture
What to avoid to get relief from heartburn in pregnancy
When a female is pregnant, she has to think about the safety of everything she puts into and on the body. Some heartburn medications that are for nonpregnant females might not be good for a pregnant female. Unsafe heartburn medications in pregnancy include-
- Antacids containing sodium bicarbonate, as they can increase swelling.
- Antacids containing aspirin, as they can be toxic to the baby. Taking aspirin in pregnancy has been linked to pregnancy loss, heart defects, and bleeding on the brain in premature infants. It is advised to strictly avoid this heartburn medication in any case.
- Antacids containing magnesium trisilicate, as they have been proven to be safe during pregnancy, research is going on to know if they are safe in pregnancy or not.
While pregnancy heartburns are common and uncomfortable, it should subside after childbirth when the hormone levels return back to normal.
The female may not be able to prevent heartburn in pregnancy, especially if she is prone to it even when she is not pregnant. But some simple lifestyle changes, like eating small meals, avoiding spicy and fatty foods, and sleeping with the head and shoulders elevated are likely to help ease the problem. .
If these measures do not bring relief, talk to a doctor who can help you get relief.
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