What To Do About Frequent Heartburn While Pregnant

If you are pregnant and suffering from heartburn, you're not alone. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Clinical Evidence, heartburn has an incidence in pregnancy of 17% to 45% and is a common gastrointestinal symptom during pregnancy. According to NIH MedlinePlus Magazine, heartburn also affects more than 60 million Americans monthly. During a heartburn episode, acid from the stomach travels back up into the esophagus — the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. The acid can cause a burning feeling in the chest or throat, which is what's referred to as heartburn. This feeling often comes with other symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, a sour or bitter taste in the mouth, and chest pain.

During pregnancy, hormonal changes can relax the esophageal sphincter. This causes acid in the stomach to backflow back into the esophagus, per Stanford Medicine. Additionally, the growing uterus can put pressure on the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter, further exacerbating the problem, says WebMD.

In addition to pregnancy, heartburn can be caused by a variety of factors, such as eating certain foods, consuming alcohol, smoking, obesity, and certain medications, per the National Health Service (NHS). In some cases, it can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A 2010 study published in the Official Publication of The College of Family Physicians of Canada reported GERD in up to 80% of pregnancies.

How to manage frequent heartburn while pregnant

Frequent heartburn during pregnancy can be uncomfortable and disruptive, but there are several things you can do to help alleviate symptoms. Start by eating smaller meals throughout the day and avoiding spicy, fried, or fatty foods, says Healthline. Such foods include chocolate, citrus fruits, tomatoes, spicy foods, and caffeine. Also, try to avoid eating close to bedtime, and if possible, sleep with an extra pillow to keep your head and chest elevated. Healthline also advises wearing loose-fitting clothing and drinking fluids — especially water — which can help to flush out stomach acid and reduce heartburn symptoms.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, several over-the-counter medications are used to treat heartburn symptoms during pregnancy. They work by neutralizing stomach acid to alleviate heartburn symptoms. However, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider first, as some of them could potentially have an impact on your pregnancy.

Heartburn medicines may be safe for use during pregnancy

Antacids, such as Tums or Rolaids, can help to neutralize stomach acid and alleviate heartburn symptoms. These are considered safe for use during pregnancy, says Healthline. However, it's still important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking them. H2 receptor blockers, such as famotidine, can also help to reduce stomach acid. According to a 2022 review published in the journal BMC Gastroenterology, these medications are considered safe for use during pregnancy. As always, though, consult with your doctor before taking them.

Also, it is worth noting that the use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) during pregnancy is controversial. Some studies have found that these medications may be associated with an increased risk of certain congenital defects. According to a 2019 study published in the journal Hypertension, the use of PPIs during pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of asthma in the offspring.