Around half of all pregnant women experience frequent and increasing heartburn as they progress through each trimester. And if you had heartburn before you became pregnant, you’re much more likely to experience it during pregnancy. Why is heartburn so common in pregnancy, how can you manage it and will it last forever? We answer your burning questions here:
What is heartburn?
Heartburn refers to indigestion and the burning pain that’s felt behind the sternum (breast one) and the acidic, hot sour-tasting burn that travels up into the back of the throat. It often occurs after eating, is worse when bending or lying down and can last for a few hours.
Other symptoms that accompany it include chronic coughing, wheezing or other asthmatic-type symptoms and burping.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn is caused when stomach acid leaks out of the stomach and travels up into the oesophagus. At the entrance to your stomach is the lower oesphageal sphincter, a muscular valve which, using gravity, stays shut to keep the acid in your stomach. This valve opens to allow food in, and closes again. But at times, for various reason, this valve does not close tightly enough. This can allow stomach acid to splash back up and irritate the lining of the oesophagus, and causing that awful burning sensation.
Why do pregnant women experience frequent heartburn?
Heartburn during pregnancy is most common during the second and third trimesters. Experts have identified three potential causes:
- Hormones, specifically progesterone
Progesterone acts as a muscle relaxer. This makes sense as your muscles need to accommodate your expanding uterus as your baby grows. However it also has a relaxing effect on the lower oesophogal sphincter. If this muscular valve is a little more relaxed, it won't close as tightly leading to more frequent leakage of stomach acids that cause heartburn.
- Space constraints.
As your baby grows, your uterus naturally expands, putting pressure on surrounding organs, including your stomach. When you've eaten and your stomach is full and your uterus is squeezing your now full stomach, it stands to reason that some of your stomach contents and acid could be squeezed out of the oesophogal sphincter. And of course, the bigger your baby gets, the greater this pressure on your stomach which is why heartburn can worsen as you move into the last trimester.
- Slower digestion
Progesterone's the culprit again. Due it being a muscle relaxant any processes that rely on muscle movement can slow down a bit, including your digestion (and bowel movements, but that's a story for another day.) The longer food remains in your stomach, the greater the chance of heartburn occurring.
How can you reduce your risk of heartburn?
- Don’t wear tight clothing.
As we’ve just mentioned, your organs are cramped enough thanks to your expanding uterus. The last thing you want to do is have a tight waistband putting even more of a squeeze on your stomach.
- Avoid foods that are heartburn triggers.
These include spicy, fried, fatty or greasy foods, citrus fruits (and drinks like orange juice), tomatoes, garlic and even chocolate, peppermint. Also avoid caffeine and cold drinks. All of these can lead to indigestion and heartburn.
- Avoid big meals.
This makes sense, doesn’t it? You don’t want to over-fill your already cramped-for-space stomach and create the ideal setting for indigestion and heartburn. Rather, try eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.
- Drink between meals and not during.
Many women find it helps to drink away from a meal rather than filling their stomachs with water and food at the same time.
- Eat at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Your stomach valve relies on gravity to stay closed. If your stomach is full and you lie down, more pressure is exerted on that valve and stomach acid is more likely to leak out, causing annoying night-time heartburn.
- Raise the head of your bed
Just a few inches will help use the forces of gravity to keep your stomach contents securely where they should be - in your stomach. Also, sleep on your left side. Your stomach is on your left so again you’re employing gravity to help prevent stomach acids leaking out and back up into your oesophagus.
- Alcohol’s never a good idea
With all the risks to your baby, we know you wouldn’t drink alcohol during your pregnancy, but just in case there’s a celebratory occasion and you’re tempted to have a glass of wine or bubbly, remember that alcohol is also a muscle relaxant. So alcohol together with all the progesterone surging round your body make a great combo to bring on hours of painful heartburn.
What can you take to relieve heartburn?
While the points above can help to reduce the frequency of heartburn episodes, hormones and the ongoing squeeze on your stomach from your expanding uterus make it unlikely you’ll avoid heartburn altogether. Plus pregnancy is a time you have to be especially careful of every medicinal product you put in your mouth and the effect it could have on your baby.
A.Vogel’s Multiforce is a safe, effective treatment for heartburn during pregnancy. Used as a daily supplement, it also provides the body with calcium, magnesium and potassium, including potassium bicarbonate which boasts the antacid properties. In addition to helping to curb heartburn, Multiforce also helps supplement your increased needs for these minerals during pregnancy. And used daily, it will help to reduce the frequency of heartburn episodes.
Also remember to drink lots of still water throughout the day. If you choose bottled water, make sure it has a pH around 7 / 7.2 as this is neutral and won’t raise your acidity levels. Anything below 7 is acidic.
Will the heartburn go away when your baby is born?
The good news is yes. Once you’ve given birth and your hormones have normalised again, your heartburn woes should soon become a thing of the past. Bear in mind though, if you were normally prone to heartburn before your pregnancy, that won’t go away but some of the suggestions listed earlier could also help you better manage occasional heartburn going forward.