- Women's Health
10 Ways to Relieve Heartburn During Pregnancy
Don't Worry, You're Not Alone
At 34 weeks pregnant, I have a lot of people asking me how I'm feeling. My initial reaction to this is always the same - don't stand too close to them because when I speak, surely fire is going to come spitting out of my mouth like an out-of-control dragon. There is no need to set aside time to practice breathing techniques for labor, because I have to focus on breathing through this painful heat every minute of the day. It started towards the end of my second trimester and still persists - and clearly it's only going to get worse. So for the past 6 weeks, I have been on a mission to find and test out all of the remedies and old wives' tales that supposedly provide relief for heartburn during pregnancy. Hopefully this information can be helpful for fellow bun-in-the-oven dragons.
original image courtesy of patdollar.com
What Causes Pregnancy Heartburn?
There are two main causes of pregnancy heartburn - 1. the raging hormones in your body, and 2. that big ole' baby you're carrying around.
Rising Hormone Levels
Of the many hormones that are at work in your body, one of them - progesterone - works to relax your uterus as it makes room for your baby. While it's doing this, it also ends up relaxing the muscles in your stomach and esophagus that normally keep stomach acid down and help digest your food. This means it takes longer for your food to digest AND it is more likely to try to work it's way back up your esophagus (causing the burning sensation).
Decreasing Space in Your Stomach
Most pregnant women start to experience heartburn when they've reached a point where they are obviously pregnant - with a protruding stomach and that delightful waddle. The baby is getting big and it's taking up a lot of space. Before you were pregnant, your organs had just enough room to function comfortably. Now, they are smooshed and squished and struggling to function as they normally would. For your stomach, this means transforming from the shape of an orange to the shape of a pancake. So there's just nowhere for your food to go! And if your food can't fit in your stomach, then it has to go somewhere - and lots of times it gets pushed back up a bit...just enough for the stomach acids to cause that burning sensation.
1. What You Don't Want to Hear - Eat Less
But honestly, it works.
When you do the research, this is one of the most common pieces of advice that you will find. And I can tell you from experience that unfortunately it is true. I tried and tried and tried to make it untrue, but the reality is that a lot of food in your stomach really makes the heartburn worse.
Here's the good news - if your heartburn is really bad, then over time you won't want to eat lots of food. You will be like a dog inside an electric fence. You only need to be shocked so many times before you realize it's just not worth pushing it. Spend a day or two really trying to focus on eating tiny meals (but more often!) to see what the effects are. This can be hard if you have a strict work schedule or are just really routine oriented, but do what you can to give it a try. Pack little healthy snacks or plan out a temporary routine. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
2. Cut Out the Fun Stuff
No more caffeine, chocolate, spices, and fried food.
Again, this is definitely not advice you want to hear, but it is really worth following. Caffeine, chocolate, spices, and fried foods are all known to make heartburn worse. Every woman is different, so there may also be other foods you come across that make it worse. Make note of those foods and then try to avoid them. Don't view it as a disadvantage - use this as an opportunity to explore new food options. I am pretty close to being a true chocoholic, so giving up chocolate was tough for me. But when I started branching out, I found that even white chocolate was easier on me. I also had a lot of luck with snacks like popcorn. Instead of caffeine, try having an occasional ginger ale. The sugar will give you a little boost and the ginger will help to alleviate the heartburn.
image © gardenharbor
"use this as an opportunity to explore new food options"
3. Don't Drink When You Eat
This advice sounds really unusual, especially during pregnancy, but it's pretty easy to follow and makes sense when you really think about it. Liquid can take up a lot of space, and when space is limited anyway, you want to be careful. So try to cut out drinking when you're eating. This can also help you feel fuller longer because when you're not eating you can focus on drinking. Here's the catch - you can NOT let yourself get dehydrated! It is so important to have enough fluids in your system, so make sure you are drinking plenty of water in between meals.
4. The Wedge
You may have noticed that your heartburn tends to be worse at night. If you're like me, you may even be woken by it. This isn't just an ironic twist, it is actually because lying flat on your back makes it harder for your stomach and intestines to properly digest your food.
Enter: the Wedge. This specialized pillow will help you to sleep on a slight incline so that your stomach acids are less likely to work their way up. It may also just help you be more comfortable in general since sleeping can be really tough as your belly gets bigger and bigger.
If you don't want to spend money on a specialized pillow, then don't worry. You can use more pillows than normal to prop yourself up, or even consider sleeping in a comfy reclining chair.
This Memory Foam Wedge will make it easy for you to be comfortable while still inclined a bit.
And don't worry - this doesn't mean you still can't use your favorite pillow. Just put everything on top of the Wedge and pretend your mattress is at a slight incline.
5. Don't Eat Before Bed
This is an easy piece of advice with big payoff. Depending on when your usual bedtime is, pick a time that you won't let yourself snack after. You should probably give yourself at least 3 full hours of no food before bed, so if you typically dose off at 10pm, then try to limit any eating after 7pm. This will give your body a little time to digest your food and give you the opportunity to fall asleep on a semi-empty stomach.
While this is good advice, you also need to be careful about letting yourself get too hungry. This is definitely not the time to be cutting back on how much you eat overall - you just need to shift the timing to give yourself some comfort and relief.
"You should probably give yourself at least 3 full hours of no food before bed"
6. Sleep on Your Left Side
I know, huh?
This sounds like a bizarre old wives' tale, but it turns out there is science to back it. And I can definitely tell you from experience, that this advice is absolutely true. With the way your stomach and intestines are situated, laying on your left side actually helps your organs to digest, whereas laying on your right side actually prohibits it.
There's an added bonus to sleeping on your left side too - it's actually better for both you and the baby. Since your heart is also on your left side, this helps it to pump blood more efficiently throughout your body and the baby's.
7. Gum - The stronger and mintier, the better.
This is the greatest solution for instant, short-term relief when you are on the go or stuck at work. There are different theories about why this works, but one suggests that the additional production of saliva helps to keep your stomach acids down.
There are artificial sweeteners in a lot of gums, so you don't want to overdo it, but most (if not all) research suggests that it is in such a small dose that pregnant women are more than fine chewing pieces here and there.
with or without the Shake.
Milk - during pregnancy, you should drink it up guilt-free! Yes, it does have extra calories that normally you would want to monitor, but during pregnancy it has so many benefits for you and your baby that you really don't need to worry about the calories. Plus, towards the end of pregnancy, you should be adding an additional 500 calories a day. And those calories are not supposed to come from candy! Extra milk is a perfect way to feed your baby's needs.
And for our purposes, there's an even better reason to drink more milk - milk has been proven to instantly provide relief for pregnancy heartburn. As with everything, you don't want to overdo it because the more that's in our stomach (even with liquids), the more likely the heartburn will linger.
If you're still looking for a replacement for your chocolate addiction, then this is where you may be able to fulfill your sweet tooth. Milkshakes aren't necessarily the greatest addition to your diet, but they will provide some relief and also a bit of calcium for your little one.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
9. The Big Dogs - TUMS, Mylanta, and Maalox
Sometimes when you've tried everything else, you just want what you know will work. Something that has been designed to specifically treat heartburn. Luckily, there are some very safe over-the-counter remedies that you can buy and take on a daily basis. TUMS is probably the most classic and it actually can be good for your baby. I've had my doctor tell me that if the heartburn still persists, Mylanta and Maalox can actually be better in their liquid form because they will coat your stomach faster and provide quicker relief. Despite that advice, TUMS is still my go-to drug, especially if I wake up in the middle of the night and need some relief.
10. The Really, Really Big Dogs
If you've tried all that you can and you just can not bear the pain, then it is time to talk to your doctor. Luckily, there are prescription medications that they can provide you with that should do the trick.
And just remember - the ultimate cure to pregnancy heartburn is the birth of that beautiful baby. So hang in there! There is a light at the end of the tunnel.