Heartburn Causes and Cures

Find out how to tame heartburn for a more comfortable second trimester.

That plate of cheese-drenched nachos with hot peppers never bothered you prepregnancy. In fact, your motto has always been "The spicier the better." But now you've got a devilish case of heartburn. As many as 50 percent of all women experience heartburn during their 2nd and 3rd trimesters, typically after meals or at bedtime. The feeling can range from uncomfortable to agonizing.

Also known as acid indigestion or reflux, heartburn causes a burning sensation behind the breastbone and, sometimes, a sour, bitter taste in the mouth. Why are you getting heartburn now? Because pregnancy hormones have slowed down your digestive process to help your baby draw extra nutrition and water from your body. Food moves more slowly through your intestines, and emptying time for your stomach is delayed. Progesterone, one of those pregnancy hormones, causes the muscle between your stomach and esophagus to relax. Together, all these changes offer more opportunity for stomach acids to churn and splash upward. Presto! You've got heartburn. Heartburn has nothing to do with the health of your heart. It will probably go away after delivery, when your stomach has more room in your abdominal cavity.

To cool off your heartburn, try some of these tactics:

  • Instead of eating three large meals, break your food intake into smaller portions (try six small meals) spread throughout the day.
  • Avoid eating within 4 hours of your bedtime.
  • When you eat acidic foods like oranges, tomatoes, or grapefruit, combine them with less acidic foods to reduce that evil fiery aftermath. For instance, eat tomatoes on your sandwich instead of in your salad and don't drink orange juice until you've had a bowl of cereal.
  • Some women find that spicy foods, greasy foods, coffee, carbonated beverages, acidic foods, and chocolate exacerbate heartburn; others can eat those foods without incident but have different trigger foods. Pay attention to what sets off your heartburn; then avoid it.
  • Don't drink large quantities of fluids with meals, because drinking can cause you to swallow more air. These gulps of air may aggravate heartburn. If you feel thirsty, take small sips between bites of food.
  • Skip drinks containing caffeine, because they help relax the muscle at the top of the stomach that holds in the acid.
  • Chew gum after meals to increase saliva production; this will lessen your discomfort. Why? Saliva helps neutralize acid in the esophagus.
  • Don't lie down or bend over right after you eat. Instead, sit up straight for at least an hour after you eat.
  • Sleep with a few extra pillows so that you're in a more upright position at night.
  • Generally an ordinary antacid like Tums or Mylanta can safely reduce the acidity of your stomach contents during pregnancy. Most over-the-counter antacids don't contain ingredients that can be absorbed, so they won't harm your baby. Check with your provider before using other medications such as cimetidine or ranitidine.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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