It’s estimated that anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of all pregnant women experience heartburn at some point during their pregnancy, with some women feeling the effects of heartburn as early as the first trimester and others only feeling it during the last few weeks leading up to childbirth. Heartburn during pregnancy is considered a common and harmless complaint.
The sphincter between the esophagus and stomach is weakened due to an altered hormonal balance. For example, when the pressure from stooping or bending over occurs, it can cause the acidic stomach contents to get up into the esophagus, which leads to an unpleasant burning pain below the sternum. The thicker the belly gets, the more pressure the child can put on the stomach, which can then lead to heartburn.
The increase in progesterone and estrogen production during pregnancy is the cause of the unpleasant heartburn many women experience during the second half of their pregnancy.
Hormones play a role in relaxation of the muscles of the digestive tract, including the muscular ring between the esophagus and stomach. This can cause stomach acid and digested food to reflux into the esophagus, leading to a burning or stinging sensation. Relaxation can also cause slow digestion and bloating.
There are several causes of acidity during pregnancy, including pregnancy hormones and stomach acid irritating the sensitive esophageal mucosa. However, there are other causes that have nothing to do with pregnancy hormones. This is a separate issue altogether.
Pregnancy comes with a lot of changes, and some of those changes can lead to heartburn. While it may be tempting to reach for medication, there are some things you can do to make a positive impact and reduce heartburn naturally.
If your heartburn is painful and impacts your quality of life, your doctor may prescribe a medication. However, they will only do this after completing a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that the medication is worth the risks. Your doctor will always try to avoid prescribing medications during pregnancy.
Heartburn is more common in the third quarter of pregnancy because as the uterus grows, it starts pressing on your stomach. However, there are also cases where acidity appears from the beginning of pregnancy. If you’re experiencing heartburn earlier on in your pregnancy, try eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day instead of three large ones. Avoid fried or spicy foods, and citrus fruits or juices. Also, don’t lie down directly after eating and prop your head and shoulders up with pillows while you sleep.
Chew two or three almonds or hazelnuts and mix them well with saliva. This mixture will help to neutralize stomach acid.
If you’re experiencing heartburn despite taking the necessary precautions, please consult your doctor. You may be prescribed an antacid to help alleviate the symptoms.