Heartburn During Pregnancy: Causes & Natural Remedies

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Ideally, being pregnant makes your heart feel full anticipating the arrival of your new little love. It certainly should not make your heart burn. But unfortunately sometimes it does. In fact, up to 80% of women suffer from heartburn at some point during pregnancy. 

The good news is I have some great tips for someone experiencing heartburn during pregnancy. Plus, treating heartburn can help reduce other common discomforts of pregnancy such as nausea and vomiting—a win-win!

But first, let’s talk a little about what we’re dealing with here.

What Is Heartburn?

The term heartburn is actually pretty silly since it has nothing to do with your heart. Heartburn is a burning sensation in the lower chest created by acid reflux, which is a condition where stomach contents sneak back up into the esophagus.

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) acts like a door that opens to let chewed and swallowed food into the stomach and closes to make sure the food stays down there. But, for some people, the LES doesn’t always close properly, causing reflux into the esophagus.

The lining of the esophagus doesn’t have the protective barrier that the stomach has to withstand the acidic digestive juices. As a result, when reflux occurs, the esophagus can feel like it is burning!

What Causes Heartburn During Pregnancy?

Heartburn can happen in any trimester but is most common during the second or third. Here are 3 reasons why you could be experiencing heartburn during pregnancy.

1. Higher levels of estrogen. Elevated levels of estrogen can cause the LES to relax, which may allow food that is digesting to sneak back into the esophagus.

2. Higher levels of progesterone. Higher progesterone changes the motility of the gastrointestinal tract, slowing it and prolonging transit time, making reflux more probable.

3. The growing baby and uterus. Your growing baby can cause displacement of the bowel, increased intra-abdominal pressure, and relaxation of the LES.

How to Prevent Heartburn During Pregnancy

These easy lifestyle changes may help reduce your chance of developing heartburn before it starts, as well as relieve symptoms.

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals. With bigger meals, you are more likely to experience reflux.
  • Minimize water with mealtime.Drinking a lot of water during your meal makes your stomach fill up faster, which can increase stomach pressure and dilute the stomach acid that plays a key role in digestion. Instead drink the majority of your water between meals.
  • Eat dinner earlier. If you eat dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime, you won’t go to bed on a full stomach, which can cause reflux. If you must eat before bed, make it a small snack.
  • Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. This helps with digestion because you are giving your body more time and assistance to break food down efficiently.
  • Stay upright after your meals. I’m all for pregnant women kicking back and putting their feet up, but work with gravity and try to wait at least an hour after you eat to do so!
  • Take a post-meal leisurely walk. This will help aid digestion, increase motility, and accelerate gastric emptying.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. Loose clothes will help, especially around your middle. Tight clothing around your stomach may hurt your digestion process and can cause increased stomach issues.
  • Sleep on your left side. Not everyone knows this, but laying on the right side puts your stomach higher than your esophagus, which may contribute to heartburn.
  • Reduce your stress level. Easier said than done, but stress can inhibit optimal digestion. Consider stress reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, etc.

Natural Remedies for Heartburn in Pregnancy

Sometimes you can take every precaution and you still get heartburn. If you do, here are 8 ways to help alleviate heartburn:

1. Avoid known heartburn triggersThese include caffeine, chocolate, spicy or fatty foods, carbonated drinks, tomatoes, citrus, and peppermint.

2. Sleep with your head elevated. If symptoms occur at night: lift the head of your bed 6–8 inches by placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress or propping the legs up on blocks or risers.

3. Take a probiotic. A quality probiotic will support a healthy microbiome and optimize your digestion process.

4. Consider chiropractic care, which has been known to help reduce acid reflux and heartburn.

5. Take Liquid Cal-Mag. Calcium-magnesium supplements can soothe the inflamed tissue of your esophagus.

6. Chew xylitol gum. This promotes salivation to help neutralize the refluxed acid and helps to increase the rate of esophageal acid clearance.

7. Take digestive enzymes and/or papaya enzymes. They assist your gut in breaking down food.

8. Chew deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) tablets. They’re naturally sweet and provide healing and soothing relief to inflamed esophageal tissue.

Digestive Health Advice to Consider Before Becoming Pregnant

If you’re thinking about having a baby and your digestive health is already flawed, know that there’s a good chance pregnancy will make it even worse. Don’t fret! Fortunately, there are things you can do to prepare your body for this change. I recommend working with a naturopathic doctor to get your digestion in tip-top shape before you conceive.

Here are a few key digestive tips to consider before conception:

1. Identify and remove food allergens that may be causing digestive issues, the most common culprits being gluten and dairy.

2. Ensure optimal digestive function by providing additional digestive enzyme support with supplements.

3. Support a balanced microbiome by reducing dysbiosis and optimizing beneficial bacteria with quality probiotics.

Dr. Briana Sinatra

Meet Dr. Briana Sinatra

Dr. Briana Sinatra is a board-certified naturopathic doctor with a vibrant practice in the Pacific Northwest. There she focuses on women’s and family health, taking a holistic approach to healthcare by empowering women with the knowledge and tools they need to live their best life now and protect their future wellness by looking at how all the systems in the body work together and how diet, lifestyle, and environment all influence health.

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