Pregnancy without Heartburn: Is it possible?

Heartburn (also known as acid indigestion or acid reflux) is an uncomfortable but common pregnancy complaint. It may be that up to half of pregnant women experience heartburn, which may occur for the first time while they are pregnant. It feels like a burning sensation in the chest and throat, and a sour, acidic taste in the mouth, often after eating.

Heartburn is caused by some of the hormonal and physical changes in your body. During pregnancy, the placenta produces the hormone progesterone, which relaxes the smooth muscles of the uterus. Unfortunately, this hormone also relaxes the valve separating the esophagus from the stomach, allowing gastric acids to seep back up, which causes that unpleasant burning sensation. Progesterone also slows down digestion so that later in pregnancy, as your growing baby crowds your abdominal cavity, stomach acid is pushed up into the esophagus. If you have a short torso, this may exacerbate heartburn.

Foods to Avoid

Though you may not be able to eliminate heartburn entirely, you can take steps to minimize your discomfort.  Avoid food and beverages that cause you gastrointestinal distress (take a look at this chart for a complete list). The usual suspects are:

  • carbonated drinks
  • alchohol
  • caffeine
  • chocolate
  • acidic foods like citrus fruits and juices
  • tomatoes
  • mustard
  • vinegar
  • processed meats
  • mint products
  • spicy, highly seasoned food
  • fried or fatty foods

In addition to this, follow these guidelines to further eliminate discomfort from heartburn:

•  Don’t eat big meals. Instead, eat several small meals throughout the day. Take your time eating and chew thoroughly.

•  Avoid drinking large quantities of fluids during meals — you don’t want to distend your stomach. It’s important to stay hydrated, but sip in between meals instead.

•  Try chewing gum after eating. Chewing gum stimulates your salivary glands, and saliva can help neutralize acid.

•  Don’t eat close to bedtime. Give yourself two to three hours to digest before you lie down.

•  Sleep propped up with several pillows or a wedge. Elevating your upper body will help keep your stomach acids where they belong and will aid your digestion.
•  Watch your posture. Putting pressure on your stomach can cause heartburn in pregnancy. Sit in an upright position to keep the pressure off your stomach. When you stand or walk, keep your posture erect for the same reason.

•  Gain a sensible amount of weight, and stay within the guidelines your health care provider suggests.

•  Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Avoid any tightness around your waist and tummy.

•  Bend at the knees instead of at the waist.

•  Don’t smoke. In addition to contributing to a host of serious health problems, smoking boosts stomach acidity.

An over-the-counter antacid that contains magnesium or calcium may ease discomfort, but check with your prenatal caregiver before taking one, because some brands contain aluminum or aspirin or are high in sodium. Some heartburn relievers such as Tums, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, or Gaviscon may also prove helpful.  If these measures don’t help, talk to your caregiver about prescription heartburn medications that are safe during pregnancy.

Yoga has proven to be great help for some people in coping with heartburn. Yoga helps to reduce stress and anxiety, promotes relaxation, and stabilizes digestion.  Click here or here for some simple prenatal yoga instructions that may provide some relief.

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