Even if you never experienced heartburn before your pregnancy, you might find that certain foods or scenarios trigger it now that you’re pregnant. Heartburn is common for many women during pregnancy; it may feel like a burning sensation rising up your esophagus to just behind your breastbone or like you’re bloated or full. It can also make your mouth taste sour, cause you to burp, or make you feel nauseated.
What Causes Pregnancy Heartburn?
When we eat, food travels down the esophagus into the stomach, and there's a valve that connects these two pieces of the GI tract. The job of that valve is to keep food in its place. Heartburn—during pregnancy or otherwise—occurs when this valve allows stomach acid to travel back up into the esophagus.
During pregnancy, there are two reasons the valve separating the stomach and esophagus may allow stomach acid to pass through: the hormone progesterone causes the valve to relax, or your expanding third-trimester uterus puts pressure on your stomach and intestines—or both. For many pregnant women, heartburn is especially prevalent in the third trimester because of this pressure. If you experienced heartburn often before pregnancy, you’re more likely to experience it while pregnant.
Tips For Pregnancy Heartburn Prevention & Relief
The first step toward relieving pregnancy heartburn is proactively trying to prevent it. Here are some tips for how you can prevent pregnancy heartburn—or, if you’re already experiencing it, ease symptoms and find relief:
- Eat smaller meals more often. Instead of three larger meals each day, aim for five or six mini meals enjoyed at a leisurely eating pace.
- Curb heartburn triggers. Common heartburn culprits include fatty or greasy foods, spicy dishes, and coffee or other caffeinated foods and drinks.
- Time your fluids. If heartburn bothers you, try drinking fluids between meals, but avoid drinking large amounts of fluids with your actual meal.
- Stay upright after you eat. Let gravity help your food stay in place by waiting at least an hour before lying down after a meal or snack. In fact, taking a walk after eating is a good way to aid your digestion. But if you need to rest, prop a few pillows behind your back to keep yourself more upright.
- Keep extra pressure off your abdomen. You can do this by staying within healthy pregnancy weight guidelines determined by your doctor and passing on too-tight clothing.
- Avoid cigarettes and alcohol. Add triggering pregnancy heartburn to the long list of negative effects of consuming tobacco products or drinking alcohol while pregnant.
Pregnancy Heartburn & Over-The-Counter Medications
If you’ve had heartburn before becoming pregnant, you may be accustomed to reaching for over-the-counter antacids. Be careful with heartburn medications during your pregnancy, though. Check with your doctor before taking any medications, such as over-the-counter antacids. Some contain high levels of sodium, which can result in fluid buildup and swelling, or include aluminum as an ingredient, which is considered unsafe to consume during pregnancy.
Instead of over-the-counter medications, consider one of these natural remedies for pregnancy heartburn relief:
- Eating yogurt
- Chewing gum after meals to increase saliva production
- Drinking a warm glass of milk—with or without a tablespoon of honey
- Drinking chamomile tea with honey
When To See A Doctor For Pregnancy Heartburn
If making adjustments to your diet or other at-home remedies haven’t provided pregnancy heartburn relief, it may be time to bring it up to your doctor. Your doctor can help you choose an appropriate over-the-counter antacid (if you’ve not already tried taking them for relief with your doctor’s advice), figure out if a prescribed medication or supplement is the culprit, or prescribe a stronger medication to treat your pregnancy heartburn.
If you experience any of the following symptoms with your pregnancy heartburn, see your doctor as soon as possible:
- Difficulty eating
- Difficulty keeping food down
- Stomach pain
- Weight loss
Remember, pregnancy heartburn, like a lot of pregnancy-related symptoms, is temporary and will likely resolve when baby is born. A good bit of heartburn can be avoided by simple dietary changes that fit inside the guidelines for good prenatal nutrition. Discover additional prenatal nutrition tips and recipes within our helpful prenatal content guide.