You have navigated the morning sickness and emotional rollercoaster of your first trimester and cruised through your second trimester. As you enter your third trimester, you may think that you’re done with the worst of those pregnancy symptoms. But you are hit with an awful burning sensation in your chest – also known as heartburn. Heartburn during pregnancy – especially in the last trimester – is an unexpected issue many mums-to-be face. The good news is that by understanding what heartburn during pregnancy is and following a few tips, you can ease its symptoms.
What is heartburn and why does it happen during pregnancy?
Heartburn is characterised by burning pain in the chest (behind the chest bone) that is often worse after eating (especially a big, spicy or greasy meal), or when bending/lying down.1 Pregnant women with heartburn might also burp frequently and feel bloated or full.2
Heartburn during pregnancy is commonly experienced in the final trimester. Its symptoms can be quite distressing and uncomfortable for those who experience it, especially if it is for the first time.
Often occurring after the 27th week of pregnancy, heartburn during pregnancy is thought to be caused by hormones.
Pregnancy hormones can cause the relaxation of sphincter muscles leading to the stomach, which opens for food to pass through. This allows the stomach content to reflux into the oesophagus, the tube connecting the mouth and the stomach, producing the burning sensation associated with heartburn.2,3
Additionally, the pressure from your growing baby is thought to contribute to heartburn during pregnancy. Eating large meals can also make heartburn worse – since one of your hormones tends to slow down digestion, causing food to remain in the stomach for longer. Eating spicy and greasy foods could also cause heartburn. It is also more common if you have experienced heartburn before getting pregnant, or if you have been pregnant before.
Tips to help ease heartburn
While heartburn can be quite distressing, it does not affect your baby and it can be controlled with some lifestyle changes and dietary modifications2:
Avoid eating very spicy, greasy and/or fatty foods as these are common triggers of acid reflux and heartburn. It is thought that citrus fruits and juices can also trigger acid reflux.
Try to eat several small meals spread throughout the day instead of three large meals. Do not eat late at night.
Avoid lying down or going to bed immediately after eating. You could elevate the head of your bed by 10 to 15 centimetres or if this is hard to do, place a pillow under your shoulders.
Do not consume alcohol and smoke cigarettes while pregnant. Heartburn is a relatively minor side effect of these – both alcohol and tobacco can cause a range of serious health issues for your developing baby.
Eat yoghurt or drink some warm milk with honey stirred through it for immediate relief of heartburn.
Eat slowly, chewing your food thoroughly. Sit up straight while eating.
Limit your caffeine intake.
While it is important to stay hydrated while pregnant, drink water between meals but not with them.
If nothing eases your heartburn, speak to your healthcare provider who can prescribe medication that may help. You should also seek medical advice if you are losing weight, spitting up blood, passing black poop or having trouble swallowing.
1 Mayo Clinic. Heartburn. Accessed on 18th March 2022 fromhttps://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223
2 Cleveland Clinic. Heartburn During Pregnancy. Accessed on 18th March 2022 fromhttps://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12011-heartburn-during-pregnancy
3 Stanford Children’s Health. Pregnancy and Heartburn. Accessed on 18th March 2022 fromhttps://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=pregnancy-and-heartburn-134-10