Heartburn during pregnancy is a common occurrence, especially in the last trimester. According to major studies, more than one half of pregnant women do experience heartburn, and for many women it is a first-time introduction to the digestive upset. Heartburn is usually harmless, having no lasting effects, and will disappear after giving birth, but that doesn’t make it any less miserable if you are dealing with it. In order to cope with the discomfort, you may need to make some changes in your diet to eliminate acidic foods. Other simple lifestyle changes can help relieve symptoms of heartburn, making this time of anticipation of your new baby more enjoyable.
Why is heartburn so prevalent while you’re pregnant?
It has nothing to do with your heart, but because the burning usually takes place in the chest, it has been named after that vital organ, and other names for the condition are acid indigestion and acid reflux. In medical terminology, it is called GER, which stands for gastroesophageal reflux, or in other words, the acids in the stomach splash up into the esophagus. Because these gastric acids have a corrosive effect on the lining of the esophagus, they cause a burning sensation which can extend from the bottom of the breastbone to the lower throat. These acids escape the stomach because the valve (called the esophageal sphincter that is between the stomach and esophagus) is not working properly. During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone is produced by the placenta to relax the uterus, and it also relaxes this muscular valve. This hormone explains the overall sluggishness of the digestive tract during this time and the common complaint of constipation. Later in pregnancy, the growing baby puts additional pressure on the stomach and causes gastric acids to back up into the esophagus.
Foods and drinks that cause heartburn while you’re pregnant
- Caffeine and carbonated drinks
- Alcohol which is not appropriate anytime during pregnancy
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Spicy, fried, fatty or highly-seasoned foods
- Tomatoes, mustard and vinegar
- Processed meats
- Mint products
Steps to reduce the symptoms of heartburn when pregnant:
- Eat several smaller meals during the day instead of three large ones.
- Chew your food well and don’t rush through meals.
- Drink only small amounts of fluids with your meals to avoid stomach distention. It is important to drink eight to ten glasses of water daily, but drink this between meals.
- Chew gum after eating. Enzymes from your salivary glands can be stimulated by chewing gum, and this can help neutralize the acids in your stomach.
- Don’t lie down after eating.
- Don’t eat two to three hours before you go to bed. Allow your stomach to empty of its contents.
- Elevate the head of your bed by six inches or sleep with several pillows to raise your upper body. This will help keep the stomach acids contained in the appropriate place.
- Wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t increase pressure to the stomach and abdomen.
- Control your weight according to your healthcare provider’s advice, so it is the baby gaining weight not you.
- Bend at the knees instead of the waist when doing daily routines.
- No smoking—it is harmful to you and your baby, and it creates more acid in the stomach.
If these measures fail to control your heartburn, the next step is to consult your healthcare providers about taking over-the-counter antacids, or a stronger prescription drug. Follow their recommendations, because some antacids contain aluminum, aspirin or are high in sodium, and should not be consumed during pregnancy. Some women have found that liquid antacids work better because they coat the esophagus and stomach. Prescription drugs can be taken during pregnancy under your doctor’s guidance if your heartburn is severe.
by Joy Seeman
© 2009 H.I.C. Digestive Health
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