Don’t Panic Over A Heartburn During Pregnancy – Read This

pregnancyMany adults experience heartburn throughout their lives. Heartburns are annoying in every circumstance conceivable. In other words, there is no good time to have a heartburn. Of course, when you add heartburn to the cocktail of radical internal and external changes your body goes through during pregnancy, heartburn during pregnancy becomes a nightmare.

Fortunately, the condition can be managed easily.

In this article you’ll read about lifestyle and dietary changes that when stacked one on top of other, makes heartburn less intense and few and far between. Before we learn what those changes are, you should know the symptoms of heartburn.

What Exactly Is Heartburn?

The term heartburn is quite a misnomer. Heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. Instead, heartburn finds its origin in your digestive system. You’ll learn more about the exact mechanics behind heartburn shortly. But first, here are the symptoms of a heartburn:

  • heartburnYou feel a burning sensation behind your breastbone, the region where the pendant of your necklace usually lies.
  • The burning sensation mostly occurs after a meal and lasts for a few minutes.
  • At times, you feel the burn move up your neck and to the throat.
  • In some cases, you might experience some difficulty in swallowing food.
  • Regurgitation of partially digested food is also a sign of heartburn.

If the chest pain is severe and you feel as if someone is tightly squeezing your chest, then you should immediately see a doctor. Some serious conditions, such as heart attack, mimics the signs of a heartburn.

Cooling the Fire: Know Your Heartburn

Photo by Olek Remesz / CC BY-SA

Your digestive tract starts where food goes in and ends where the food goes out. Between entry and exit, there are multiple organs that facilitate transportation, breakdown and absorption of food. The digestive system is complex, but for the sake of simplicity and relevance, you need to know about two organs – your esophagus and your stomach.

The esophagus is a pipe-like structure that helps move chewed food from your mouth to the stomach. In the stomach, various acids and enzymes break down the food. At the location where the stomach and the esophagus meet, a valve known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) prevents the contents of the stomach from spewing into the esophagus.

When the LES is not strong enough to prevent the stomach acids from leaking into the esophagus, the acids burn the walls of the esophagus. This acidic assault is what you call sense as a heartburn.

A Common Problem: Know the Causes of Heartburn During Pregnancy

Heartburn during pregnancy is common. So what does heartburn during pregnancy mean?

Well, one of the heartburn during pregnancy myths is that your baby would be born with too much hair if you have heartburn during pregnancy. But, that’s not grounded in science, because heartburn during pregnancy and hair have no connection, so let’s find out what the real link is between heartburn and pregnancy.

progesteroneDuring pregnancy, women are more prone to heartburn because of elevated levels of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone causes the LES to relax; thus, stomach acids are not effectively contained within the stomach. In addition to that, the hormones slow down the contractions in the esophagus and as a result, digestion becomes sluggish.

Lastly, during the latter half of the pregnancy, the developing fetus occupies a great chunk of the abdominal cavity. This puts excessive pressure on the stomach, making the LES weak.

While pregnant, the nature of the origin of heartburn makes it impossible to eliminate heartburn completely. However, there is a lot that you can do to minimize the intensity and frequency of heartburn. In this article, you’ll learn effective techniques and tips to find relief from heartburn during pregnancy.

Avoid Trigger Foods to Prevent Heartburn While Pregnant

In order to lessen the occurrence of heartburn while pregnant, you must monitor how your body reacts to different foods. The most common foods that trigger heartburn are as follows:

  • CaffeineFizzy drinks
  • Caffeine
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Citrus fruits and fruit juices
  • Heavily seasoned dishes
  • Fatty and fried foods
  • Processed meat
  • Mint, mustard, and vinegar
  • Spicy preparations
  • Vegetables, such as tomatoes
  • Chocolates

These items are, of course, the usual suspects, but you may not be sensitive to all items in the dish, so watch your tums during pregnancy. Once you are conscious of what you eat, you’ll get a feel for what works for you and what doesn’t.

Increase Meal Frequency and Decrease Meal Size

Although your stomach expands to accommodate more food, it is inadvisable to force your stomach to distend. When your stomach is distended, it puts extra pressure on the LES. Eventually, the stress weakens the LES and causes stomach acids to flow into the esophagus.

mealsTo circumvent this problem, always eat smaller and more frequent meals. This has the following advantages:

  • Smaller meals will not cause your stomach to over distend; thus, the pressure on the LES is kept in check.
  • More frequent meals reduce hunger pangs. This helps mitigate the risk of overeating.
  • Your stomach takes less time to process small quantities of food. Therefore, the partially digested food leaves your stomach faster.

An added benefit of eating in this manner is that you can include more food groups into your meal. For example, if you break down your meal plan to include six meals that are two to three hours apart, then you can:

  • Include nuts and seeds into your meal plan.
  • Dedicate one meal to uncooked foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Focus on protein intake during one meal.

When you eat only three meals a day, it becomes difficult to derive the nutritional benefits of all the different food groups that are at your disposal.

Using Science: How to Recruit Gravity to Fight Heartburn

Throughout pregnancy, keep your head elevated while sleeping. You can do this in the following ways:

  • head elevatedUse two pillows instead of one.
  • If using two pillows is not comfortable. Place one pillow under the mattress and one under your head.
  • Place wedges at the head side of the bed in order to elevate the head side of the bed by six inches.

Keeping your head elevated makes gravity work in your favor. When you lay flat, gravity offers no resistance to the acids and partially digested food leaking from your stomach. At the same time, if your head is elevated, the contents of the stomach face a little resistance due to gravity. Consequently, the intensity of your heartburn reduces.

It is true that this measure on its own won’t achieve appreciable results. Be that as it may, when this practice is combined with several other easy measures, which you will read about shortly, your relief will be substantial. So, prop up that bed today.

Effective Preventive Measure to Avoid Heartburn During Early Pregnancy

Maintaining a healthy body weight has many benefits. One of which is a significant reduction in heartburn. Studies show that even a 10-pound reduction in weight brings a threefold decrease in heartburn frequency.

Weight lossWeight loss is an effective way to tackle the problem of heartburn during early pregnancy. You can begin by calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI). Here’s how you can do that.

  • Measure your height in meters and weight in kilograms.
  • Divide your weight by the square of your height in meters.
  • The result obtained is your BMI.

A BMI value from 25 to 30 shows that you are overweight, and if your BMI is above 30, you are obese. You can reverse calculate to find out how much you should weigh for your height. Once you have a goal weight, strive towards reaching the number gradually. Doctors recommend that one to two pounds per week is a safe pace for losing weight.

Consult your personal physician during the early pregnancy phase on what would be the most suitable method to lose weight.

Do Not Skip This Step If You Have Heartburn During Pregnancy

Smoking causes the LES to relax; therefore, partially digested food and stomach acids are more likely to leak into your esophagus if you are a regular smoker. Moreover, smoking during pregnancy is extremely injurious to the baby.

quit smokingCigarette smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals including lead, cyanide and other carcinogens. If you smoke during your pregnancy, this array of hazardous chemicals enters your bloodstream. Since your blood is the only source of nutrients for the baby, smoking leads to the following complications:

  • Decrease in the size and weight of the baby.
  • Poor development of the baby’s lungs.
  • Defects in the heart.
  • Low IQ and stunted brain function.

Ideally, you should quit smoking before you conceive; however, if you are not able to quit, ask your doctor for smoking cessation remedies and tips.

Watch Your Abs and Prevent Over Exertion

Slow down all your movements during your pregnancy. Even basic movements, such as sitting and standing, involves the abdominal muscles of your body. Sudden and jerky movements lead to excess pressure on the stomach cavity, causing heartburn.
Here are a few helpful tips:

  • When you sit, keep your spine erect. Slumping causes your stomach cavity to constrict.
  • Use an arm chair to sit. This way, you can use your arms to push against the armrests when you stand up, thereby reducing the load on your abs.
  • sidewaysBend the right way. When you bend over to pick something up, bend the knee and not your hip.
  • Use support. Take support of your partner to sit, stand, or lay down.
  • Take it easy. Avoid physically strenuous jobs, such as cleaning the house.
  • Lie on your left side. While lying down, lie down sideways, preferably on the left to allow your stomach to empty faster.

Hydrate Yourself Sensibly and Properly

We’ve already talked about avoiding trigger foods and eating small, but more frequent, meals during pregnancy. In addition to this, you must change your drinking habits, as well. For instance, you must avoid drinking large quantities of water with your meals.

drink waterYou’ve read about how overeating causes your stomach to distend. Drinking too much water has the same effect. So, drink a glass of water half an hour before your meal. During your meal, sip on half a glass of water. Stress on sipping and not gulping.

Hydrating sensibly requires that you watch the symptoms of dehydration. The easiest way to tell when you’re dehydrated is to feel how dry or moist your throat feels. If your throat feels dry and patchy, you’re dehydrated.

When you drink water to hydrate, sip the water, and give enough gap between each sip. There is information on the web that recommends eight glasses of eight ounces of water every day. However, since you get water from the fruits, vegetables and beverages you consume. It is better to rely on your throat than to work with a role of thumb.

Using Over the Counter Drugs to Treat Heartburn

Since heartburn is a common problem, there are many over the counter (OTC) drugs available to treat heartburn.

Photo by Midnightcomm / CC BY-SA

Heartburn during pregnancy treatment includes a host of over the counter medicines that are of the following types:

  • Antacids: Antacids are medicines that neutralize stomach acids that have found their way into your esophagus. Antacids provide quick relief, but the effects are short-term.
  • H2 Receptor Blockers: H2 receptor blockers decrease the production of acids in your stomach. These don’t take effect immediately, but once they do, the benefit lasts longer.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors: Proton pump inhibitors also decrease the production of acids in your stomach. However, the benefits last long enough for your esophagus to repair itself. This way, irritation felt during heartburn decreases.

Your doctor can advise you on which type of medicine is suitable for you. Depending on the severity and frequency of your symptoms, your doctor may issue prescription strength versions of the above medicines. Under no circumstance should you go for any form of self-treatment. Always consult a doctor and follow his or her directions. If you face any discomfort, report it immediately.

Small Tips That Go a Long Way to Relieving Your Pregnancy Heartburn

Here are a few more changes you can incorporate into your life in order to get more relief from heartburn:

  • Don’t Eat Close to Bed Time: Heartburn during pregnancy relief is most immediately felt when you put at least two to three hours in between your last meal and bedtime. So, plan your meals accordingly. If you do get hungry close to your bedtime, you could drink a glass of water, eat a small serving of yogurt, or drink a non-citrus fruit juice. It is best that you avoid solid foods.
  • walkWalk After Your Meals: If you feel like lying down after a meal, fight that urge. Instead, walk for 10 to 15 minutes. If walking is too strenuous, sit down on a comfortable chair. Lying down immediately after a meal increases the chances of heartburn.
  • Chew on Gum After a Meal: When you begin to feel heartburn during first trimester pregnancy, make a habit of chewing sugarless gum after your meals. Chewing gum promotes the production of saliva in your mouth. Saliva effectively neutralizes stomach acids that may leak into your esophagus.
  • Chew Your Food Well: A lot of people don’t take their time to chew their food. Don’t make the same mistake. Chew your food until the texture becomes pulpy and then swallow. Doing this reduces the volume of the bolus and makes it easier for your stomach to break it down. This habit also ensures your food is soaked in saliva. As you already know, saliva helps neutralize the acids in the esophagus.
  • clothesWear Loose-Fitting Clothes: Clothes that are tight around the waist put pressure on your abdominal cavity. So, shop for clothes that don’t feel tight around any part of your body. Try and avoid clothes that have elastic bands on them.

 During the course of your pregnancy, steps you take to mitigate heartburn improves the overall health of your baby and yourself. That’s why there is no reason to not adopt these suggestions, but making these changes can be hard.

So, the first step you must take is to observe how your life is when you aren’t suffering from heartburn. Thereafter, when you do have heartburn, remember how far the sensation feels from being without heartburn. After you are aware of the gap, the motivation to change comes automatically.

Integrate these changes in your life but by bit. Don’t try to take it all in at once. Pick the easiest thing to do from this list, such as propping up your bed, and do it immediately. Then pick the next one and implement that. Keep taking baby steps until you begin to see a snowball effect.

Although it is not possible to avoid heartburn during pregnancy completely, the things you’ve learned here helps a great deal. The results of the remedial lifestyle and dietary changes suggested shows results right from the get go.

Your pregnancy should be a memorable phase in your life. Don’t let heartburn ruin it. So, begin managing your condition immediately. A happy and heartburn free pregnancy awaits you.