Many women suffer from both heartburn (acid reflux) and indigestion during pregnancy. Did you know that as many as 8 out of 10 women experience indigestion at some point during their pregnancy? And by the third trimester, nearly three-quarters of pregnant women can suffer from heartburn.
Throughout pregnancy, your body goes through a lot of changes, both physical and hormonal. While some of the changes are visible, others are not and can affect you in ways you might not have expected. Find out more about the causes of heartburn and indigestion in pregnancy, and how you can treat them.
Symptoms of heartburn & indigestion during pregnancy
From the hormonal changes early on in the pregnancy which can affect how digestive muscles work, to the physical pressure of the baby pushing on your stomach and intestines later on in the pregnancy many factors could cause the issue to arise. The symptoms of heartburn and indigestion are the same for anyone who suffers from it, and while it is very common to experience these symptoms, it does not take away from the fact that they can be painful and make the pregnancy that much harder on the body.
Often heartburn and indigestion are more noticeable after eating a meal, however, at times, there can be a delay before symptoms begin.
Signs of heartburn and indigestion can include:
- Feeling bloated or full
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling a burning sensation in your chest
While it is possible to experience heartburn and indigestion at any point during your pregnancy, symptoms may become more severe during the later stages of pregnancy, from 27 weeks onwards.
Causes of heartburn & indigestion during pregnancy
Indigestion occurs when stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of your digestive system. When this stomach acid leaks into your oesophagus, this can result in heartburn. As your body changes during pregnancy, you are more likely to experience symptoms of heartburn and indigestion for two main reasons:
- Hormonal changes to your body. The surge in the hormone progesterone causes muscles to relax. This includes the sphincter (ring of muscle) at the entrance to the stomach. When this relaxes, stomach acids can travel back up into the oesophagus (food pipe) causing heartburn.
- Pressure on the stomach. During the latter stages of pregnancy symptoms can also be caused by the baby physically putting pressure on the woman's digestive tract. As your baby grows, your growing womb may put more pressure on your stomach. This is turn can lead to symptoms of heartburn and indigestion. There are some simple steps you can take to help relieve your symptoms.
How to treat heartburn & indigestion during pregnancy
If you are pregnant and you are suffering from heartburn, it is important to remember that you are not alone and you don’t need to continue doing so. Below we will talk through a few simple lifestyle changes that can have a significant effect in easing the painful symptoms of heartburn and indigestion during pregnancy.
Find and Eliminate Trigger Foods
Different foods affect different people, so it is important to work out what foods trigger your heartburn and indigestion symptoms. To work out what affects you, try keeping a food diary and noting down any foods or drinks that make you feel ill.
Certain foods have been linked to triggering heartburn and indigestion. You may find that avoiding the following foods will help to alleviate symptoms of heartburn and indigestion:
- Tea & Coffee
- Fried, Fatty & Spicy Food
- Citrus Fruits & Drinks
Aim for a healthy and balanced diet. Try eating smaller meals regulated throughout the day, rather than three big meals could also help to prevent symptoms of heartburn and indigestion.
Leave at least 3 to 4 hours after eating before laying down, or going to bed. Allowing your body enough time to digest your food properly can help you to avoid heartburn and indigestion.
Do not smoke
Due to the chemicals that enter your body from inhaling cigarette smoke, pregnant women are strongly advised to avoid smoking. Smoking during your pregnancy does not only cause indigestion, but it will also have adverse effects on your baby’s health.
These chemicals can cause the ring of muscle at the lower end of your oesophagus to relax. When this relaxes, stomach acids can travel back up into the oesophagus (acid reflux) causing heartburn. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing that you can do for yourself and your baby.
Avoid alcohol consumption
Alcohol consumption can trigger the symptoms of indigestion. Your baby can also become prone to developing severe congenital disabilities once exposed to alcohol.Pregnant women are strongly advised to cease drinking during their pregnancy to reduce risks to your unborn baby. Beyond heartburn and indigestion, drinking alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage.
Allow Food to Digest
It is crucial to allow your body time to properly digest your food when trying to avoid heartburn and indigestion. With that in mind, you should allow yourself three to four hours after eating before you lay down. Laying in a horizontal position can make it easier for the stomach to rise back up into the oesophagus.
Sitting Up Straight
Sitting and sleeping in a more upright position can do a lot of good. Be mindful of your posture and keep your back straight when you are eating and for another half an hour afterwards. This can be a straightforward and easy way to help avoid indigestion when you are pregnant as sitting in this position will take pressure off of your stomach – as long, of course, as this is comfortable for you and you have enough support for your back.
Another thing to think about when going to bed is placing something underneath your mattress, which will keep your upper body elevated while you sleep. Again, this will make it harder for any stomach acid to rise into your oesophagus while you sleep, causing that burning pain in your chest.
Avoid Bending Over Where Possible
Of course, you may need to bend over to pick something up from time to time, as long as it is safe and comfortable for you to do so, but where possible try just to bend your knees rather than bending down from your waist.
Wear Loose Fitting Clothing
Apart from being more comfortable while you are pregnant, loose fitting clothing can affect your heartburn and indigestion symptom for the better. Tight clothes, especially around the waistband can put pressure on your stomach so maternity wear can be significant in helping to reduce symptoms.
Consider over-the-counter (OTC) medication
If some of these lifestyle changes still aren’t helping, you could try an over the counter option by reaching out to healthcare providers. If symptoms are severe or prolonged you should consult a doctor or pharmacist.
*This article is meant for educational purposes. All information presented is not meant to diagnose or prescribe.
Article published 25 March 2021