Heartburn in Pregnancy

With all of the joys that accompany pregnancy, there’s also the potential to experience some unpleasant conditions. Pregnant woman are often struck with heartburn and it commonly occurs for two reasons. When functioning optimally, the valve between the esophagus and the stomach (the lower esophageal sphincter) should only open when swallowing to allow food down, then it should quickly close again. During pregnancy the body produces relaxin, a hormone that softens your joints and cervix for delivery, but it also softens the muscles of the esophagus and can keep it from closing as efficiently. The potential for acids to be pushed up past the weakened valve increases when combined with the added pressure that’s put on the stomach as baby grows and organs shift. The delicate lining of the esophagus doesn’t have the same protection against acid that the stomach does. So when acid rises into the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the chest, just behind the breastbone.

Antacids are usually the first remedy a heartburn sufferer reaches for, and it’s easy to think that excess acid is the problem. While antacids reduce stomach acid, which is indeed causing the discomfort, the disadvantage in doing so is that sufficient stomach acid is crucial to properly digest and break food down… especially during pregnancy! So antacids may alleviate the problem of heartburn, but using them will likely cause another problem: indigestion.

Stomach acid also helps protect you against certain bacteria and taking drugs to suppress stomach acid (either over the counter ‘Tums’ or prescription) can also increase your susceptibility to infections such as: salmonella, listeria and giardia.

Identify Triggers

Some foods are more commonly irritating for heartburn sufferers than others. Try reducing:

* Acidic foods: citrus & tomato, including juice from these

* Spicy foods, including black pepper

* Garlic & raw onions

* Fried foods

* Chocolate & peppermint

* Alcohol, carbonated beverages & coffee or other caffeinated beverages

Reduce Inflammatory Foods

Chronic heartburn can cause inflammation, which further contributes to improper valve function. So it’s best to reduce inflammatory foods such as: sugar, refined grains products like white bread, pasta and pastries, deep-fried foods, and pasteurized dairy. Dairy may help heartburn temporarily because the calcium helps buffer the acid, but it’s inflammatory properties can actually make the condition much worse over time for some people. Although, if you tolerate dairy well, consuming fermented dairy such as plain and organic yogurt or milk kefir may help bring relief while providing beneficial bacteria that aids proper digestion.

Smaller, More Frequent Meals

Avoid eating large meals that leave you feeling stuffed. Heavy meals stretch the stomach and put increased pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, increasing the chance of heartburn. Instead of consuming a few large meals per day, try having smaller meals more often. It’s also helpful to avoid consuming liquids during meals, especially water, as it further fills the stomach and dilutes the concentration of stomach acid necessary for proper digestion. Water is still very important to consume though, just try to have it between meals.

Sleep Slightly Elevated

The discomfort of heartburn is often worse when lying down or bending over because these positions allow the acid to rise more easily. Sleeping elevated on a few pillows or using a wedge can help alleviate this. It’s also recommended to leave sufficient time between your last meal and going to bed, allowing the stomach time to empty.

Pregnancy Safe Supplements

Slippery Elm Bark: a demulcent, which helps form a soothing layer over mucous membranes to create a stronger barrier against acid and relieve pain and inflammation. Take 1 tbsp mixed with water after meals and before bedtime.

Apple Cider Vinegar: although other acidic foods can trigger heartburn, apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid that mimics the natural environment in the stomach. It helps to break down food and often brings great relief to sufferers. Take 2 tsp – 1 tbsp mixed with a little water before meals.

Ginger: anti-inflammatory property reduces irritation and aids digestion. Steep fresh chopped ginger in hot water and consume as a tea 30 minutes before meals.

Probiotics & Fermented Foods: help maintain a balance in the digestive system and are always recommended to aid digestive issues.



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Carley Mendes is a Holistic Nutritionist and specializes in naturally nourishing fertility, pregnancy, mama & baby. The birth of her son in 2014 deeply reinforced her devotion to helping other women thrive during their journey into motherhood with knowledge and confidence. Find Carley at Oh Baby Nutrition.