Let's talk about your stomach. At the top of your stomach, you have a valve that keeps food you just swallowed, as well as the acid your stomach produces to digest that food, down. During pregnancy, your body makes a hormone called progesterone. Progesterone relaxes this valve. With this valve relaxed, it’s much easier for stomach acid, and sometimes partially digested food, to rise back up into your esophagus. This causes a burning sensation in your chest and throat, which you've probably become pretty familiar with if you're pregnant. Heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion are all very common during pregnancy – largely because of the progesterone the body is producing. These conditions can all be worse if you’re pregnant with multiple babies, your baby is breech, or your baby is very large. There are ways to keep the heartburn at a minimum.
Choose Your Meals Carefully
Some of this is going to be trial and error on your part. It goes without saying, however, if something gave you heartburn before you were pregnant, there's a good chance it's going to exacerbate the heartburn during your pregnancy.
If you're suffering from extreme heartburn, try eating bland food like oatmeal or crackers. It that helps, incorporate your regular diet slowly into this bland diet to see what food specifically could be causing the heartburn. Definitely avoid spicy foods. Tomato-based foods or dishes containing garlic have also been tied to heartburn – however, some women claim that eating a clove of raw garlic each day or using garlic in their cooking has reduced their heartburn. In addition to avoiding spicy foods, it's helpful to note that rich, fatty and fried foods as well as sugar, tea and coffee have been known to make heartburn worse. Reducing your intake of carbonated drinks may also help.
Timing (and Position) Is Everything
Heartburn is always worse if you eat immediately before you go to bed, because the valve that keeps food and stomach acid down is in position to be opened more easily. That being said, try to eat small meals more frequently rather than three large meals a day. Eating slowly can also help reduce your chances of getting heartburn. Also, try making lunch your largest meal of the day rather than dinner. This gives your body time to digest the meal before going to bed. If you do eat before bed, stay sitting upright as long as possible before going to sleep. As you get closer to your due date, you might find that elevating the head of your bed helps stave off heartburn.
Is There a Natural Remedy?
There are lots of prescription and over-the-counter medications that do an excellent job of relieving heartburn, but most aren’t safe to take during pregnancy. Unfortunately, there is no “silver bullet” that will cure everybody's heartburn, but some women find relief in antacids that contain calcium or magnesium. Avoid taking too many of these, however, and avoid antacids that contain aluminum because these can cause constipation, adding another layer of discomfort to your current situation. Also avoid taking anything with baking soda, because it can cause swelling. And definitely talk with your OB/GYN doctor, who may have additional recommendations to offer.
Dr. Salinas is a board-certified OB/GYN specialist and Managing Physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Woman’s Center. His clinical interests include obstetrics and preventive gynecologic health, as well as minimally invasive office and surgical procedures.