Heartburn is a burning sensation in the stomach that is very common during 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 either the mother or the 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 very important to consult 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. To relieve heartburn quickly, having a glass of milk, preferably skimmed, may help.
What causes heartburn
Heartburn usually appears during the second or third trimester of pregnancy because of an increase in the levels of a hormone called progesterone, which helps the womb muscles to relax.
The increase in progesterone encourages a decrease in intestinal influx and relaxes the esophageal sphincter, which is the muscle that separates the stomach from the esophagus, resulting in heartburn.
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.
How to get rid of heartburn
Even though heartburn is common during pregnancy, there are some steps that can help relieve this problem, 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 on the tummy and bump;
- 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 goes away after labor because the stomach has more space to expand in the abdomen and the hormonal levels go back 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 reflux that should be identified and 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 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.