Heartburn is a result of stomach acids that travel back up the esophagus instead of down. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), located at the end of the throat, is designed to help digested food stay down. However, pregnancy causes the body to produce a hormone called relaxin. This hormone is what helps the ligaments and joints of the pelvis to relax and prepare for delivery. Unfortunately, the lower esophageal sphincter can also become relaxed and fail to do its job of keeping your stomach acids down. Heartburn is the result.
Heartburn is compounded by the fact that as a pregnant woman’s belly expands, her organs get pushed up and cause further pressure on the esophagus and area below the ribcage. With a relaxed sphincter and a crowded stomach, the symptoms can be quite disruptive. Heartburn was given its name since it often produces discomfort in the chest cavity. However, rest assured that heartburn is not a dysfunction or issue within the heart itself. If you question whether it is heartburn or a symptom of something more serious, always let your physician investigate it further.
Now that you understand how and why heartburn occurs in pregnancy, here are some helpful ways to relieve your symptoms or at least manage them better:
- Eat small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals. This allows the stomach to digest less at a time, which means less stomach acid production
- Avoid the foods that trigger heartburn – spicy foods, chocolate, coffee, acidic foods, carbonated beverages
- Sleep elevated. A few pillows under your head or upper back can ensure the acids stay down past the LES.
- Consider smoothies. Since liquids are more easily digested, you can obtain your nutritional needs in a smoothie form without triggering heartburn discomfort.
- Keep antacids on hand. Tums are safe during all stages of pregnancy. Just be sure to wait at least one hour before taking your prenatal vitamin, as the calcium in antacids can block the much-needed iron absorption from your vitamin.
Is heartburn sabotaging the enjoyment of your pregnancy journey? At North Pointe OB/GYN, we are here to help you through the common side-effects of pregnancy, including miserable heartburn.