Causes & Symptoms
Pregnancy is usually an exciting time for expectant mums, their partners, and their family and friends. However, the body starts changing almost immediately, and some women may suffer from heartburn and indigestion during early pregnancy. For those who experience heartburn in pregnancy (typically around two thirds of pregnant women), it tends to become more common as the pregnancy progresses.
Here’s how heartburn can manifest in pregnancy and what you can do to reduce its impact on your day-to-day life.
What is Heartburn During Pregnancy?
Heartburn is a common issue for pregnant women which involves acidic stomach contents being regurgitated back up the individual’s oesophagus, which can cause burning in the throat and chest. Symptoms are often worse immediately after eating or while lying down.
The reasons for the increase in heartburn in pregnancy are complicated and not completely understood, with multiple factors potentially at play:
- It has been thought that the expanding uterus places pressure on the lower oesophageal sphincter (the ring of muscle at the base of the oesophagus), causing it to relax and allow stomach contents to flow up into it
- The surge in the pregnancy hormones oestrogen and progesterone may affect the pattern of relaxation on the lower oesophageal sphincter, allowing acid reflux
- Delayed emptying of the stomach may also play a role in acid reflux
What are Some Common Heartburn Symptoms in Pregnancy?
The symptoms of heartburn during pregnancy are no different to those experienced by the general population. The experience of heartburn is of a burning sensation around the sternum (breastbone), which may extend up as high as the throat.
What typically causes heartburn for pregnant women?
As mentioned above, the causes of heartburn are complex and not wholly understood, may be related to the pattern of relaxation on the lower oesophageal sphincter (the ring of muscle at the base of the oesophagus).
There are a number of everyday recommendations typically given to people who experience heartburn and wish to avoid or alleviate symptoms, including:
- Eat smaller meals
- Sleep in a more upright position
- Avoid food 2-3 hours before bed, especially acidic and spicy food
- Drink fluids mostly between meals instead of during the meal
How to help alleviate heartburn in pregnancy
The first line of management of heartburn is lifestyle changes. Eating smaller meals, not eating at night and raising your bedhead are all key steps to take.
In cases of more troublesome symptoms, or if symptoms persist despite lifestyle changes, you may wish to discuss medications with your doctor. There are a variety of such medications, for example antacids are a fast and effective means to alleviate your heartburn symptoms may be due to their rapid symptom relief. It is important to discuss the most appropriate management of heartburn and any other symptoms with your health care professional.
Always consult your health care professional if you have any questions relating to the suitability of medications during pregnancy or for diet and lifestyle advice. Pregnancy is a special time, so reach out for support so you can enjoy it while it lasts.