Heartburn During Pregnancy: Causes & How to Treat

Updated in April 2023

Heartburn during pregnancy is more frequently reported by women in the second and third trimester, although some women may feel it even earlier. It is described as a burning sensation in the stomach that can be very uncomfortable. This symptom does not typically put the baby’s health or mother’s health at risk, and is usually the result of changes to hormone levels, anatomical structure and eating habits.

Heartburn occurs with other symptoms, such as intense pain under the ribs or on the right side of the stomach, should be assessed by a doctor, however, as this may be a sign of a more serious condition that requires prompt interventions. 

Many times, heartburn during pregnancy can be relieved through dietary changes, such as avoiding deep-fried, peppery, or spicy foods and by avoiding having drinks with meals. To relieve heartburn quickly, having a glass of milk, preferably skimmed, may help.

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What causes heartburn during pregnancy?

Heartburn usually appears during the second or third trimester of pregnancy due to an increase in progesterone, which is a hormone that helps the womb muscles to relax.

This increase in progesterone slows down intestinal flow and relaxes the esophageal sphincter, which is the muscle that separates the stomach from the esophagus. Because the sphincter is relaxed, stomach acid can back-up into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn.

Also, due to fetal growth, abdominal organs become more cramped. The stomach is displaced out of its usual spot and pushed forward. This promotes the return of food and gastric juices up the esophagus, leading to heartburn symptoms.

How to get rid of heartburn

Even though heartburn is common during pregnancy, there are some measures you can take to relieve and prevent this symptom, such as:

  • Avoid hard to digest foods such as mustard, mayonnaise, pepper, coffee, chocolate, soda, alcoholic drinks or 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
  • Avoid lying down for at least 30 minutes after eating
  • Do not wear clothes that are very tight around the belly 
  • Eat small portions at a time
  • Avoid smoking or exposing yourself to cigarette smoke
  • Avoid eating 2 to 3 hours before going to bed

Heartburn usually resolves after labor because the stomach has more space to expand in the abdomen and hormonal levels return to normal. However, women who gained a lot of weight during pregnancy can still have persistent heartburn for up to one year after labor.

Additionally, heartburn can be a symptom of acid reflux that is not related to pregnancy, which should be identified and treated in accordance to doctor recommendations. Learn more about acid reflux and what causes it. 

Medication & home remedies

In most cases, heartburn improves with changes in diet and lifestyle, but if heartburn is constant or severe, the doctor may prescribe tablets containing magnesium or calcium, or even some over-the-counter antacids. It is important to notify your doctor before starting any medication or supplements to ensure they are safe for use during pregnancy.

Some foods can help to relieve heartburn, as they push gastric content back into the stomach. Examples include raw, peeled potato, an apple with the peel, a slice of bread, or a cracker.

Check out our tips and home remedies for heartburn during pregnancy that you can use to manage mild symptoms and/or to complement your prescribed medical treatment.