What is heartburn?
Heartburn, reflux or acid indigestion is an unpleasant burning sensation in the chest area caused by stomach acid escaping into the throat, causing irritation and inflammation in the throat lining.
At times the gastric juices may rise high enough that you can taste them, or may even reach your mouth. Heartburn can also cause quite worrying chest pains. If you are getting chest pains soon after eating, they’re probably caused by these juices.
Why do I have heartburn in pregnancy?
There are two reasons why heartburn can flare up in pregnancy. The first is (you guessed it) hormones. Progesterone has a relaxing effect on muscles including the cardiac sphincter, the valve between the throat and the stomach. When this muscle is lax, acidic fluids from the stomach can escape more readily up into your throat, causing irritation.
Heartburn becomes more common later in pregnancy as your growing womb takes up more and more of your abdominal cavity, leaving less room for your stomach. The upwards pressure from the womb can easily push gastric juices up into the throat.
What can I do to manage heartburn when it strikes
When preventative measures fail you, and you even your best dietary efforts may not be able to eradicate heartburn during pregnancy, then there are a few ways of easing the discomfort.
- Try a milky drink – Many people find that a milky drink eases the symptoms of heartburn by neutralising the stomach acids, and a warm, milky drink before bedtime is a pregnancy classic (and because it also helps you to sleep of course). This doesn’t work for everyone, however.
- Keep your upper body raised – If you experience heartburn when you’re lying down, such as at nighttime, then try to keep your upper body raised: You can use pillows to elevate yourself slightly for sleeptime, and this is another occasion when specially designed pregnancy pillows can be very useful.
- Try a digestive herbal tea – Many herbal teas can help with digestion, particularly ginger, fennel and peppermint. However, while some people find peppermint tea a godsend against heartburn, others find that it can aggravate it, so ditch it if it doesn’t work for you.
- Try fizzy water – While sugary fizzy drinks are very likely to worsen heartburn, plain slightly fizzy water is one of those things that can work either way, and you may find it helps relieve the symptoms.
- Take an antacid – If you’re suffering from an attack of heartburn then you can take an over-the-counter antacid (do double-check that it is safe to use in pregnancy, but plenty are). It’s wisest to use this to provide occasional relief, rather than to rely on them as a complete solution.