Strategies for managing heartburn

Young pregnant woman suffering from heartburn

What to Know

  • When and why heartburn occurs during pregnancy
  • Nutritional tips to help minimize heartburn
  • Other, non-nutrition related strategies for managing heartburn

Many mothers will report they have never experienced heartburn before becoming pregnant. Why is this so? Pregnancy hormones, especially progesterone, cause the valve between the stomach and the esophagus to relax and allow digested food and stomach acids to regurgitate back up into the esophagus. This acid reflux causes a burning sensation in the chest, hence the name “heartburn.” Pregnancy hormones also slow down the muscles of the digestive tract that are involved in food motility which can make heartburn worse and also lead to indigestion, gas, bloating, and constipation. As if this wasn’t enough, your growing baby and enlarging uterus may change the position of your stomach, which can alter the angle of your digestive organs, further exacerbating the problem.

Heartburn can start in the first trimester but is more common during the late second and third trimesters when as many as 80% of pregnant women are symptomatic. Heartburn can occur without warning, is uncomfortable and unpleasant, can create a sour taste in your mouth, and can keep you up at night. For most women, heartburn will resolve shortly after the baby’s birth. Until then, read What to Do for steps you can take now to help manage this challenging side effect of pregnancy.

What to Do

Avoid certain foods to help manage heartburn

Determining your own heartburn triggers will help you to avoid them. Although everyone is different, greasy, fried, spicy or fatty foods, refined grain and sugary products, onion, garlic, citrus fruits and juices, milk, carbonated beverages, mint teas and caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate or soda) are the most common triggers for people prone to heartburn. If you are unsure of your triggers, it’s worth keeping a food and fluids log for a few days (and if you do, then also note time of day and the position you were in after eating).

Eat small frequent meals rather than 3 large ones

Eat small, frequent meals rather than 3 large ones. Eat slowly to avoid filling up your stomach, which can create pressure and possible acid reflux. And drink in a similar fashion for the same reason: instead of large quantities of fluids all at once, sip water throughout the day and stagger fluids and foods.

Eat plenty of high fiber foods

Fiber may help bind food and keep it from coming back up.

Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen

Unhealthy weight gain can exacerbate heartburn symptoms. But avoid bending and lifting directly after eating or drinking as this will apply more pressure to the stomach. Try taking a walk – it will keep you upright and the food down.

Avoid lying down within 3 hours of eating

Aim to eat dinner early so your food has time to digest before you sleep. While resting, be sure to use a pillow to prop your head and shoulders up by 10 to 30 degrees

Avoid tight clothes

Talk to your healthcare provider about antacids if your heartburn symptoms are unmanageable

Be sure to follow medication instructions and do not exceed daily dosage limits.


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