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Heartburn during pregnancy: main causes and what to do

Heartburn is a burning sensation in the stomach that is very common in the second and third trimester of pregnancy, although some women may feel it earlier.

Even though it can be very uncomfortable, heartburn normally is not serious and does not represent a risk for mother or baby. However, if heartburn comes with other symptoms such as intense pain under the ribs, or on the right side of the stomach, it is important to visit a doctor, as this may indicate more serious situations that should be treated quickly.

Heartburn during pregnancy is a situation that can easily be relieved through dietary changes, such as avoiding deep-fried, peppery, or spicy foods and avoiding having drinks with meals, which should also be small. To relieve heartburn quickly, have a glass of milk, preferably skimmed as the fat in whole milk stays in the stomach for longer.

Heartburn during pregnancy: main causes and what to do

Main causes

Heartburn usually appears in the second or third trimester of pregnancy because of an increase in the levels of a hormone called progesterone, which helps the womb’s muscles to relax so it can grow and carry the baby.

The increase in progesterone encourages a decrease in intestinal influx and relaxes the esophageal sphincter, which is the muscle responsible for closing the division between the stomach and the esophagus. This allows the food and the gastric acids to go back to the esophagus and throat more easily, resulting in heartburn symptoms. 

Also, with the baby’s growth, the organs end up having less space in the abdomen, and the stomach is pushed forward. This also encourages the return of food and gastric juices up the esophagus and thus, heartburn symptoms.

What to do

Even though heartburn is typical in pregnancy, there are some steps you can make to help relieve this problem:

  • Avoid foods such as mustard, mayonnaise, pepper, coffee, chocolate, soda, alcoholic drinks, and industrialized juices;
  • Avoid drinking liquids during meals;
  • Eat fruits like pears, apples, mangoes, ripe peaches, papaya, banana and grapes regularly;
  • Chew all your food very well, to ease digestion;
  • Sit for at least 30 minutes after eating, and avoid lying down;
  • Do not wear clothes that are tight on the tummy and bump;
  • Eat small portions at a time, several times a day;
  • Place a 10-centimeter wedge at the top of your bed to stop your body from being completely horizontal, which is not good for reflux and heartburn;
  • Do not smoke and avoid exposing yourself to cigarette smoke;
  • Avoid eating 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. 

Heartburn usually goes away after labor because the stomach has more space in the abdomen and the female hormones go back to normal. However, women who gained a lot of weight during pregnancy can still have heartburn for up to one year after labor. Additionally, heartburn can be a symptom of reflux in pregnancy that should be treated in accordance to doctor recommendations. 

What remedies can be used

In most cases, heartburn improves with changes in diet and lifestyle, but if there is constant and severe heartburn, the doctor may prescribe tablets with magnesium or calcium, or even some over-the-counter antacids. However, it is important to remember that any medication or supplements should only be taken under your doctor’s supervision to make sure it is safe for the baby’s development.  

There are also some foods that relieve heartburn, such as raw, peeled potato or apple with the peel, a slice of bread, or a cream cracker as they help to push gastric content back into the stomach and thus stop heartburn.

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