Having Heartburn during Pregnancy Is Normal; Let’s examine what it’s all about.

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Heartburn during pregnancy is a fairly disabling symptom that persists almost throughout pregnancy. In vast majority of expecting moms its symptoms appear for the first time during pregnancy and may add to the anxiety and agony associated with other pregnancy symptoms.

Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest that’s most commonly felt after lying on full stomach or after taking spicy, fatty meals. It represents the rising of stomach acids into your esophagus; when acid in your stomach flows into the esophagus instead of being digested. Heartburn symptoms appear during pregnancy as a result of physiological and hormonal changes usually associated with pregnancy.

The Mechanism of heartburn during pregnancy

In pregnancy, serum levels of progesterone and estrogen are very high thus relaxing smooth muscles in the body - an action that eventually affects all smooth muscles of the body.

Heartburn primarily occurs during pregnancy because food moves more slowly through the intestines and pressure is exerted on the stomach by the enlarging uterus thus possibly pushing stomach acid into the esophagus.

Before pregnancy, the communication between esophagus and stomach (referred as gastro-esophageal sphincter) is tightly closed, normally preventing any reflux of food content or gastric acid from stomach to esophagus.

However, due to pregnancy hormones, digestion process tends to slow down and so, the digestive acids remain in your stomach for long period than usual. As a result, the potency of sphincter is compromised, giving rise to acid reflux -upward movement of stomach acids. As the pregnancy advances, the reflux increases because of the pressure of expanding uterus on other abdominal organs and further affects the functioning of gastro-esophageal sphincter.

What can I do to avoid heartburn during pregnancy?

If heartburn isn’t properly controlled by dietary management and lifestyle adjustments, nutritional status can be greatly affected and frequent bouts of pain attack that can compromise your health will result. The good news is that heartburn can be avoided by changing our lifestyle and including healthy food items in your diet. You’ll find the following tips very helpful in this regard:

  • Avoid consuming spicy, greasy and fatty meals when you’re pregnant as spicy foods increase the gastric acid production and slows down digestion process; thereby increasing heartburn during pregnancy.

  • Intake of alcohol, cigarette smoke and caffeine/ caffeinated beverages should be strictly avoided during pregnancy as these may lead to weakening of gastro-esophageal sphincter and improper closure that could lead to reflux of gastric contents. Besides, all these agents are also considered as gastric acid stimulants. A healthy alternative for these is to have ginger tea, honey or yogurt.

  • It’s very important to divide your meals sensibly as a lot of expecting moms are tempted to eat big meals at one time due to cravings. It’s therefore advised by most obstetricians to divide your meals in 5 to 6 smaller portions and each time you eat, take it slowly and don’t over-stuff your stomach.

  • Although water is extremely important during pregnancy, you must ration your water intake during and before meals. Excessive water-intake may lead to over-distension of your stomach.

  • It’s also advised that women who are having heartburn during pregnancy should avoid lying down soon after meals or eating just before bedtime. It’s suggested that sitting or light walking for some time (or if you’re feeling lazy, you can sit with your head prop up for 15 minutes).This gives the food enough time to pass from your stomach to intestines thereby preventing reflux of gastric acid in esophagus. Most physicians recommend maintaining a window of about 2 to 3 hours between eating and sleeping.
  • While sleeping, support your belly and maintain a sleeping posture in which your head is at higher level than your abdomen. You can achieve this by elevating the head of your bed. Importantly, have adequate amount of sleep daily.

  • With pregnancy related weight-gain, it’s important to change your wardrobe too. Wearing comfortable and loose maternity wears, especially when you want to sleep, are also helpful in improving symptoms of heartburn during pregnancy.
  • In a case of obesity, doing regular exercise or any other physical activities will help you to relax, maintain your weight and alleviate the contributory effect of obesity to heartburn. But it’s not advised that you exercise right after meal; give some time for your food to get digested before exercising.

What medications can I take for heartburn during pregnancy?

Although you can take any over-the-counter medication such as antacids for heartburn relief, it’s suggested you take advice from your healthcare provider before taking them. The reason is simple; finding effective solution to heartburn during pregnancy depends on diagnosing the exact cause of it case by case and only your doctor is in the best position to walk you through such process and will prescribe the appropriate remedy based on the specific identified causes.

Moreover, most calcium containing heartburn remedies have been proved to be associated with constipation and may worsen bowel movements (that are already slow under the influence of pregnancy hormones). A lot of heartburn remedies have anti-inflammatory agents. Sodium bicarbonate medication, for instance, contains high amounts of sodium that increase your water retention. Therefore, such medications are unsuitable for use during pregnancy.

Apart from over-the-counter remedies or prescribed medications, avoiding acid-triggering agents is also helpful in overcoming heartburn during pregnancy.

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