I’ve written about pregnancy heartburn before and am revisiting the topic again today, as it is so common – usually during the second and third trimesters, but can occur at any stage of pregnancy. Heartburn (aka. dyspepsia / acid reflux) can be painful, will often interfere with sleep, and can bring with it other symptoms like nausea and heightened stress.
Why do I have heartburn?
Hormonal changes: natural increases in hormones such as progesterone promote the relaxation of smooth muscles around the uterus, which is important as your baby grows. However, it can also affect smooth muscles elsewhere in the body, such as the lower oesophageal sphincter (the valve separating the stomach from the oesophagus). This laxity allows gastric acid to escape out of the stomach and into the oesophagus, leading to a burning sensation in the chest and throat. It can also slow the rythmic contractions of the stomach, contributing to sluggish digestion.
Physical changes: as pregnancy progresses, your baby starts taking up more and more room in your abdomen, which places strain on the surrounding organs. This also creates less space in your stomach as your diaphragm is pushed upwards, and often contributes to the reflux of gastric acid and partially digested food.
How can I manage it at home?
I’m happy to report that there are many remedies and strategies you can use to reduce symptoms and support health, disgestive function and overall health – here are my top recommendations:
Eat smaller meals, more regularly – avoid eating large amounts of food in one sitting / during one meal, as this will assist your stomach to break down and move your food along, preventing stagnation and reflux, and improving digestion more generally. Also be mindful of how fast you’re eating and try to slow it down, as this will also help the process of digestion.
Recognise (and avoid) trigger foods – for some women this will be spicy food, for others chocolate or rich / meaty meals. Not everyone is the same and as such you do not need to avoid a long list of potential triggers. However, be aware of when you react most and aim to avoid or minimise those foods as much as possible.
Sip your drinks, especially between meals – where you can, avoid drinking large amounts of water or herbal tea in one sitting. Instead, sip on these throughout the day so as to avoid ‘flooding’ your stomach. Also try and drink after a meal, rather than before or during, as this can dilute gastric acid, which will slow down your digestion further.
Stay upright – particularly after you’ve just eaten. It can be tempting to get horizontal after dinner time, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy when you feel tired and ‘done’ by the evening. However, if you are getting regular heartburn, gravity is going to work against you when you lie down: encouraging the backflow of gastric acid. So, after a meal, stay upright for at least an hour. If you really feel you need to lie down, do so with your back propped up by several pillows.
Are there remedies and treatments?
Herbal medicine can be a great support during pregnancy and, specifically, with heartburn. There are a number of herbs that can help to relieve heartburn – something I’d recommend speaking with your naturopath or herbalist about, to work out what’s right for you. One common herbal remedy is Slippery Elm powder, which can also be made into lozenges for easier dosing (see my recipe – a very popular article on the blog) Alongside this, regular consumption of herbal teas can and should be included, particularly after a meal; my favourites include Peppermint, Ginger, Chamomile and Nettle.
Acupuncture is another wonderful option to support digestion and overall health during pregnancy – and to help with common conditions such as heartburn. The treatments will ease eruptive symptoms (also why it’s so useful in morning sickness), help to regulate digestion and also create a sense of relaxation and calm.
If you’re experiencing uncomfortable heartburn symptoms and would like to know more about what support is available, please feel free to shoot me an email or book a time to come in and see me at the Birth House.