Heartburn During Pregnancy - Causes and Treatment

Heartburn, as its name suggests, is a problem that occurs in the stomach when digested food passes from the stomach to the esophagus when the valve that separates them relaxes. It often worsens during pregnancy.
Heartburn During Pregnancy - Causes and Treatment

Last update: 24 August, 2020

Heartburn is common during pregnancy. It has nothing to do with the heart or lungs, but people who experience it often report a burning sensation in their chest.

This symptom usually appears during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. While it’s not a sign of serious problems, it’s definitely uncomfortable and painful.

What’s the cause of heartburn during pregnancy?

A woman experiencing heartburn during her pregnancy.
The burning sensation is a consequence of the passage of gastric juices into the esophagus, in the opposite direction to normal digestion.

Heartburn is a digestive problem that happens when digested food goes from the stomach, which contains gastric juice (an acid to aid in the digestion of food), into the esophagus (the tube between the mouth and stomach).

When this occurs, there’s a burning sensation behind the sternum – a burning sensation that begins in the stomach and seemingly rises. A pregnant woman may have a certain bitter taste in her mouth or a gagging feeling.

Under normal conditions, the food, once swallowed, passes through the esophagus and then into the stomach. There’s a circular valve at the bottom of the esophagus that shuts the connection between it and the stomach when we eat. The purpose of this valve is to prevent stomach acids from returning back into the esophagus.

When we swallow, the valve relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow. When a person experiences heartburn, the valve relaxes when they’re not eating so that stomach acids can go up the esophagus. Thus, this organ becomes irritated and it causes a burning sensation.

Heartburn during pregnancy – predisposing factors

There are many factors that can make the valve relax more easily. All of them have to do with eating the following types of food:

  • Fried or fatty goods
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Onion, garlic, hot spices
  • Certain medications
  • Excessive food intake
  • Lying down after eating

Hormones are another cause of heartburn

When a woman is pregnant, her body secretes a series of hormones. These substances mediate various physiological processes in the body and relax the muscles of the digestive system. The esophagus valve is a part of it. Progesterone is the hormone that’s most involved in heartburn.

For this reason, stomach acids are more likely to move up into the esophagus and cause this problem. This situation aggravates when the pregnant woman is in a horizontal position. As we mentioned above, heartburn usually appears in the second or third trimester. This is when the uterus begins to press on the stomach.

You may also be interested in reading 7 Habits to Effectively say Goodbye to Heartburn

Heartburn during pregnancy – treatment

A woman with a belly ache.
Factors such as diet and related habits can affect the development of heartburn.

Despite being a fairly common symptom and difficult to avoid, there are various measures that can help a pregnant woman decrease her discomfort and de-intensify her symptoms. Among these measures, you must try to:

  • Divide your meals into smaller portions and avoid eating too much at once.
  • Maintain your weight as much as you can — gaining a few pounds during pregnancy is inevitable and normal, mainly try not to exceed it as it puts pressure on the stomach, which leads to heartburn.
  • Don’t lie down right after eating, doctors recommend waiting at least 1 hour if you’re just going to lie down and three hours if you intend to sleep.
  • Pregnant women should try to drink about 9 glasses of water a day between meals, but not during a meal, as this promotes heartburn.
  • Finally, avoid foods that build up acidity such as hot spices, fried, and fatty foods, as well as all the foods mentioned earlier.

We hope you’ve found this article helpful.

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