Is it safe to take Gaviscon for pregnancy heartburn?

Dr Philippa Kaye runs through dealing with heartburn when pregnant, and the risks of Gaviscon and antacids during pregnancy

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In a nutshell

It’s safe, but get medical advice first in certain instances

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The expert view

Many of us have suffered from the painful effects of heartburn and indigestion when pregnant and, fortunately, there is something you can do about it.

According to the NHS, Gaviscon is “not known to cause any problems during pregnancy or breastfeeding”, although MFM’s GP Dr Philippa Kaye warns not to take the medicine without first speaking to your doctor or healthcare professional if:

  • you have ever had an allergic reaction, or know you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the medicine
  • you are on a low salt diet
  • you have high levels of calcium in your blood or kidneys
  • you are prone to kidney stones
  • you have very low levels of stomach acid
  • you have phenylketonuria (genetic condition PKU)

And if you are taking any other medication you should check with the pharmacist or doctor that Gaviscon will not interact with them, adds Dr Kaye.

“Iron preparations can interact with Gaviscon and lots of pregnant women will be prescribed an iron preparation,” she explains. “Some meds may not be taken at the same time but can be taken if spread apart during the day but others should not be mixed so women need to speak to a health professional first.”

Update: January 2016: A note about the latest study linking heartburn medication with asthma in babies: The study, from the University of Edinburgh, cited in many national newspapers, suggests there may be a possible link between heartburn medicines and asthma in babies.

It’s important to note – what many papers failed to mention – that the study didn’t look at over-the-counter antacid medication such as Gaviscon but specifically at prescription medicines like Ranitidine, which have histamin-2 receptor antagonist and proton pump inhibitors. 

However more research needs to be done and women are advised to seek advice from their doctors in the first instance about taking such medication.

So how does Gaviscon work?

Gaviscon has three main ingredients: sodium alginate, calcium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate.

Sodium alginate forms a gel-like layer on top of the acid in the stomach. This helps prevent reflux of stomach acid up the gullet and protects the stomach lining and the gullet from acid attack. It also has a soothing effect and allows healing to occur in reflux oesophagitis.

Calcium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate are both antacids and work by neutralising excess acid and protect the stomach from irritation.

Are there any ways to tackle heartburn without medicines?

Diet can be a factor in heartburn, points out Dr Kaye, who also recommends taking a look at your caffeine intake.

“I see many mums-to-be in my surgery suffering with painful heartburn, they may also have bloating, burping and nausea due to the indigestion,” she reveals. “Certain foods and substances can make indigestion worse, so if you have not stopped already because of your pregnancy then stopping smoking can help, as can stopping alcohol.  Caffeine is another culprit so watch the number of coffees, teas, chocolates and cola. Although there is guidance on how much caffeine is safe in pregnancy, women with heartburn may do better if they decrease even further or stop it altogether.”

Try:

  • Cutting out spicy food
  • Cutting out citrus fruits, juices and other acid-type foods such as pickles
  • Decreasing oily food
  • Drinking peppermint tea after eating
  • Drinking milk to neutralise the acid
  • Eating smaller meals, little and often

“People often get heartburn at night, so eating your main meal at lunchtime with a smaller dinner, or eating dinner earlier may help,” adds Dr Kaye. “You could also try propping yourself up on a few pillows.”

What if nothing is working?

“If diet alone is not enough I do recommend products such as Gaviscon, or another similar alginate and antacid liquid,” advises Dr Kaye. “There are lots available over the counter and there is no real difference between Boots or Tesco own brand and Gaviscon. If this is not enough then do see your doctor as there are various prescription medicines for heartburn, which are safe to use in pregnancy, such as ranitidine and omeprazole.”

Mums on our forum say

“I’m the acid reflux girl! I have to take Gaviscon every night!” Corrinne

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“I’ve been suffering with the worst heartburn ever for the past 3 days I’ve tried everything. Gaviscon, Rennies, milk, even not eating and that’s not worked! The antacids work for a little bit but then it comes back even worse than before! This baby must have an afro if the wives’ tales are true about having a hairy baby!” Amybaby

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