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Pregnancy and Heartburn - Ways to Get Relief

Heartburn is the common name for the discomfort that occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Other terms for it are acid indigestion and acid reflux. The symptoms usually include a burning sensation that starts at the base of the sternum (breast bone) and may push all the way up to the back of the throat. Heartburn is not usually a serious condition and poses no threat to the baby or the mother.

It can, however, be very uncomfortable. Many women experience heartburn for the first time when they are pregnant. The bad news is that once it occurs, it is likely to keep coming back from time to time during the rest of the pregnancy.

Certain hormones produced during pregnancy, especially progesterone, work as muscle relaxers on the smooth muscles inside the mother’s body. This means that the valve between the stomach and the esophagus is often relaxed enough to open and allow acid to work its way upward. The muscles that move food downward through the esophagus and work the stomach are also not as tight as normal, so digestion is not as efficient as it could be.

In addition, the baby is growing. This places pressure on the internal organs and can squeeze acid out of the stomach to make its way up the esophagus. Heartburn is usually more common toward the end of the second trimester and throughout the third.

With these factors creating the problem, it may be impossible to go through the pregnancy without heartburn recurring. There are some steps that can be taken that have been proven to help reduce the symptoms.

  • Avoid eating and drinking things that are known to irritate stomach acid. Spicy foods, carbonated beverages, caffeine, and acidic fruits can make the symptoms worse.
  • Eat five to six small meals each day instead of three large ones.
  • Drink fluids before and after meals, but avoid doing so when eating to minimize the contents of the stomach
  • Try chewing a piece of gum after meals. This has been shown to stimulate the production of saliva, which aids in digestion, neutralizes acid, and helps to clean teeth.
  • Eat your last meal of the day at least two hours before lying down for the night.
  • Use extra pillows to elevate the entire upper half of the body to make it more difficult for acid to come up.
  • Control how much weight you gain and how fast you gain it.
  • Avoid clothing and body positions that put pressure on the abdomen.
  • Quit smoking if you haven’t done so.
  • Use over the counter antacids that contain calcium. Be sure to choose one approved by your doctor because some contain ingredients that can harm the baby, including aspirin.
  • Severe cases can be treated using prescription acid reducers. Talk to your doctor about these if the discomfort is very bad.
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