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Heartburn during pregnancy is very common. Most pregnant women experience it at some stage. Despite heartburn being a harmless symptom though, it can still be considerably uncomfortable and even painful.

You may feel heartburn as a burning sensation in your oesophagus or food pipe. This happens when acid rises from your stomach and up into your throat. It may even leave a nasty taste in your mouth.

As soon as your baby is born and your uterus starts to go back to its original size, heartburn and indigestion should disappear. For some women this is almost straight away.

The causes of heartburn during pregnancy

Like bloating in early pregnancy, heartburn is often thanks to the increased levels of progesterone in your body.

Progesterone relaxes the smooth muscle tissue throughout your body, including the valve that separates your oesophagus from your stomach. This means that your stomach contents can easily splash back up and burn your oesophagus and the insides of your throat.

In the later months of your pregnancy, your uterus will start to push on your digestive organs. This will also contribute to heartburn and force stomach acid up your oesophagus.

Preventing heartburn during pregnancy

Your persistent heartburn may be avoided with a few subtle changes to your eating habits and positioning.

To avoid heartburn from flaring up, consider taking some of these preventive measures:

  • Don’t sleep on a full stomach. If you can, try to have finished your last meal of the day at least two hours before going to bed. This way your stomach can start digesting your food in an upright position before you’re lying down overnight.
  • Avoid eating very large meals at night time. These can fill your stomach and make it distended at a time of day when digestion naturally slows down.
  • Chew your food well. Eating slowly and remembering to chew is key for preventing heartburn. Chewing is where digestion begins. The more you chew the less work your stomach has to do and the less acid it produces to digest your food.
  • Avoid eating certain foods. Some foods are more likely to cause heartburn than others. Avoid overly spicy food, excessive amounts of caffeine, rich, greasy foods, and citrus fruits and juices. Experiment with what food is right for you.
  • Sit up straight. Digestion is most efficient when you’re sitting upright while eating and just afterwards. Do your best to maintain good posture while you’re eating to prevent heartburn from flaring up.
  • Sleep in a more upright position. Experiment with more than one pillow so you’re not lying completely flat.

Treatment for heartburn during pregnancy

Like many pregnancy symptoms managing them involves paying attention to your body. The first step is figuring out which foods and daily habits cause you heartburn or make it worse. You can then try to avoid them and reduce your chances of having heartburn.

When heartburn strikes, try these simple tips to give yourself some relief:

  • Drink water after meals. Flushing your meals down with a good sip of water may help your stomach digest your food more quickly, without needing to produce excessive amounts of acid.
  • Have a sip of milk. Milk can sometimes help to settle heartburn. If you’re lactose intolerant or don’t enjoy full-fat milk, try having a sip of coconut, almond or rice milk instead. Or some yoghurt may also help.
  • Consider taking an antacid. Always check with your healthcare professional and/or a pharmacist first, but an over-the-counter antacid, in liquid or chewable tablet form, can provide soothing relief from heartburn.

If none of the above methods give you relief from heartburn, ask your healthcare professional for some more specific advice.

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