How to Cope With Heartburn During Pregnancy

Three Parts:Making Nutritional ChangesMaking Lifestyle ChangesTaking Heartburn Medication

Many women suffer heartburn during pregnancy, particularly in their final few months. Old wives' tales say it means the baby has lots of hair! In reality, it mainly occurs for two reasons: hormones released during pregnancy relax the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach, which allows digestive acid to creep up. Additionally, during the second half of pregnancy, the growing baby pushes up on the stomach, which can force acid up into the esophagus. Learning how to cope and prevent heartburn during pregnancy makes it more comfortable and enjoyable. However, if you're pregnant, always consult with your doctor before taking any medication or natural remedy to combat heartburn.

Part 1
Making Nutritional Changes

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    Avoid foods that commonly trigger heartburn. Although there's nothing you can do about hormonal changes during pregnancy, you do have control over your diet. Therefore, avoid eating spicy, fatty and fried foods, which can cause acid reflux (heartburn).[1] Cut back on processed snacks like chips and pretzels. Instead, eat whole-grain foods, fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats and low-fat dairy.
    • Chocolate, mustard, tomatoes (and sauces), onions, processed meats and citrus fruits can trigger heartburn in sensitive people.
    • Avoid seasoning your food with pepper, vinegar, ketchup, etc. In general, eat plain and natural during pregnancy.
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    Eat smaller meals. Another strategy for coping with heartburn during pregnancy is to eat smaller, more frequent meals spread throughout the day.[2] Eating large meals tends to overfill your stomach and increases the risk of digestive juices creeping up your esophagus, so stick to smaller portions. While pregnant, you don't want to go hungry and prevent your baby from getting essential nutrients, so eat every 2-3 hours.
    • In general, your portion shouldn't exceed the volume created when you cup both hands together.
    • You should also take your time eating and chew thoroughly in order to partially "predigest" your food. Chew your food for at least 20 seconds before swallowing.
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    Don't eat too close to bedtime. Eating close to bedtime promotes heartburn because lying flat makes it easier for stomach acid to escape into your esophagus and irritate it. As such, don't eat anything for between 2-3 hours prior to lying down in order to give yourself enough time to properly digest.[3] In general, digesting meat takes about twice as long as fruits and most veggies take.
    • If your bedtime is 10pm, then meats, fish and poultry should be eaten no later than 7pm. Salads, pastas and rice dishes can be eaten as late as 8pm or a little later.
    • If you're hungry as you head to bed, try drinking a little water or herbal tea to take the edge off your hunger.
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    Avoid beverages that cause gastrointestinal distress. In addition to food, many beverages can trigger overproduction of acid in your stomach. Acidic drinks to avoid while pregnant include carbonated beverages (especially colas), alcohol beverages (especially red wine), hot chocolate, coffee and sweetened citrus juices (OJ, lemonade, etc).[4]
    • Caffeine is a also a trigger for heartburn, so colas and coffee tend to be a "double whammy" as far as heartburn is concerned.
    • In addition to purified water, herbal tea, dairy milk and almond beverages are generally safe to drink if you're trying to cope with heartburn.
    • Don't drink large volumes of liquids during meals — you'll distend your stomach otherwise.

Part 2
Making Lifestyle Changes

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    Sleep with your head or upper body slightly elevated. Once you've given your body enough time to digest your dinner, you may still have to sleep with your upper body elevated to prevent the reflux of stomach acid into your esophagus.[5] Sleep propped up in your bed with several pillows or a specially made foam wedge. .
    • Plastic or wooden wedges are made to fit between your mattress and box spring to elevate your upper body. These are available online or at medical supply stores.
    • If you suffer from back pain during your pregnancy, don't forget to support your low back curve with a firm pillow.
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    Avoid bending over at the waist. To help keep food and digestive acids in your stomach, it's best not to bend over an hour or two after meals / snacks. Bending over at the waist puts pressure on your stomach and can squeeze some acid out into your esophagus.[6] Instead, use your knees to bend down to pick up things or ask for assistance.
    • You may also have to temporarily stop exercises that involve lots of bending over, such as yoga, aerobics or martial arts.
    • Keeping flexible during pregnancy is important, but avoid trying to touch your toes if you're experiencing heartburn flare ups.
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    Wear loose clothing and avoid anything tight around your stomach. Finding the right clothes during pregnancy is difficult due to an expanding belly, but it's important not to wear shirts and pants too tight because they can push your growing baby into your stomach and trigger indigestion or heartburn.[7] Instead, wear loose fitting and comfortable clothing, especially during the last half of your pregnancy.
    • Consider wearing partially synthetic fabrics which have lots of stretch to them so your abdomen experiences less pressure.
    • Avoid belts and opt for elastic waistbands on pants and shorts.
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    Chew gum after meals. Another strategy for coping with chronic indigestion and heartburn during pregnancy is chewing gum after meals. Chewing gum stimulates the production of more saliva from glands, which can help to neutralize acid reflux in your esophagus when you swallow it.[8] Compounds in saliva are much more alkaline than stomach acid, so it helps to neutralize it and stop the burning sensations.
    • Avoid peppermint or wintergreen-flavored gum because mint and menthol can trigger or aggravate heartburn symptoms.
    • Avoid gum sweetened with aspartame because it can bloat you and promote indigestion / heartburn. The sweetener xylitol is a better / safer choice.
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    Don't smoke. Most women know that cigarette smoking can harm developing babies, but most probably don't know that it also boosts stomach acidity production. Smoking also decreases the esophageal sphincter's ability to open and close properly.[9] Needless to say, stop smoking immediately if you're pregnant.
    • The lower esophageal sphincter is the valve between the tube that carries food (esophagus) and the stomach, where most of the digestion takes place.
    • Babies born to mothers who smoke are smaller in weight and tend to have many more health problems.

Part 3
Taking Heartburn Medication

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    Take an over-the-counter (OTC) antacid. When you're pregnant, you have to be especially careful what medications you take, although OTC antacids such as Tums or Axia3 are generally pretty safe. Some brands might contain aluminum or aspirin, or have lots of sodium, so clear it with your doctor before taking any just to be on the safe side.[10]
    • The calcium and/or magnesium in antacids are alkaline and neutralize stomach juices (hydrochloric acid) that splash up into the esophagus.
    • Too much sodium can increase blood pressure (hypertension) and lead to complications during pregnancy.
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    Try OTC histamine-2 receptor antagonists. Another helpful OTC heartburn medication that's generally safe to take during pregnancy is called histamine-2 receptor antagonists or H2RAs for short.[11] H2RAs such as cimetidine, ranitidine and famotidine are effective for reducing stomach acid and tend to provide longer relief, but they don't act as quickly as regular antacids.
    • Histamine-2-receptor antagonists are also called H2 blockers and are commonly used to treat stomach and duodenal ulcers.
    • H2 blockers actually reduce the production of stomach acid, which relieves heartburn symptoms and allows the esophagus to heal.
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    Use proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) instead. Another type of OTC medicine helpful for heartburn are proton pump inhibitors, such as lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec), which also act by reducing the production of stomach acid.[12] PPIs reduce the production of hydrochloric acid by blocking an enzyme in the wall of the stomach.
    • Short-term use of PPIs is well tolerated and safe for pregnant women, although long-term use can increase the risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones).
    • Ask your doctor is PPIs are more appropriate for your situation compared to antacids or H2 blockers.
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    See your doctor if heartburn continues. If you can't seem to manage heartburn on your own, make an appointment with your family physician and discuss your options. Your doctor will give you an examination and possibly recommend prescription H2 blockers or PPIs, which are stronger.[13]
    • Signs that you should see your doctor include: frequent burning chest pain (more than twice per week), difficulty swallowing, persistent nausea or vomiting, difficulty eating, poor appetite and/or unwanted weight loss.[14]
    • Seek immediate medical help if you feel severe chest pain or pressure, especially it it's combined with arm pain, jaw pain and/or difficulty breathing — you may be having a heart attack instead of heartburn.


  • About 8 out of 10 women experience heartburn or indigestion at some point during their pregnancy.[15]
  • Symptoms of heartburn include burning chest pain, belching, bloating, feeling too full and/or nausea.
  • Gain a healthy amount of weight during your pregnancy, but stay within the guidelines your doctor suggests to reduce your risk of chronic heartburn.
  • Antacids can provide quick relief from heartburn, but they can't heal an acid-damaged esophagus.
  • If OTC medications don't work well, ask your doctor about stronger prescription drugs.

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Categories: Pregnancy