Is it safe to take ranitidine for pregnancy heartburn?

Expert guidance on taking ranitidine (also known as Zantac) to soothe heartburn when you're pregnant

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In a nutshell

Ranitidine – often known as Zantac – is safe for use in pregnancy

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The expert view

Update (January 2016): A new study from the University of Edinburgh, cited in many national newspapers, suggests there may be a possible link between prescription heartburn medicines, like Ranitidine, which have histamin-2 receptor antagonist and proton pump inhibitors, and asthma in babies.

However more research needs to be done and women are advised to seek advice from their doctors in the first instance. (The study didn’t look at over-the-counter medication which, the experts admit, would be more challenging to research.)

Ranitidine is often used to treat ulcers of the stomach and intestines, but can be taken for heartburn and indigestion during pregnancy.

“Hormone changes allow the muscles in your body to relax to give room for the baby to grow but it also means that the sphincter at the top of the stomach relaxes allowing stomach acid to rise up into your oesophagus (feeding tube),” explains MFM’s GP Dr Philippa Kaye.

“The pressure on the stomach from your growing baby on your stomach also does not help!”

Ranitidine is usually prescribed as tablets to be taken twice a day and is also known as an acid-suppressant, but is normally only advised if other treatments, such as antacids and alginates like Gaviscon, have not worked.

The good news is that there has been lots of research into the safety of ranitidine during pregnancy with no increased risk of any harm to the baby.

And studies show that ranitidine does actually work – it is one of a series of drugs called histamine 2-receptor antagonists which are approved for use in pregnancy by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Although the MHRA points out that ranitidine does cross the placenta, it says that “therapeutic doses have been without any adverse effect on labour, delivery, or subsequent neonatal progress”.

But it can be worth trying a few simple tricks to see if they help the indigestion before reaching for the drugs, recommends Dr Kaye.

Try:

  • Stopping smoking, if you haven’t already
  • Cutting out alcohol
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently, rather than three larger meals a day
  • Avoid eating within three hours of going to bed
  • Sitting up straight when you eat because this will take the pressure off your stomach
  • Drinking a glass of milk/keep a glass of milk beside your bed at night.
  • Avoiding fruit juice, citrus fruits and pickles
  • Avoiding chocolate
  • Not bending over
  • Eating less rich, spicy and fatty foods
  • Cutting down caffeine in drinks like tea, coffee and cola
  • Propping your head up in bed

“Along with dietary changes ranitidine can make a real different in helping you to be more comfortable from the pain of heartburn and indigestion which is common in pregnancy,” reassures Dr Kaye.

“Ranitidine can be taken with Gaviscon but if nothing is working do see your doctor as there are other medications available.”

Mums on our forum say

“I can’t take Gaviscon – makes me puke (but then most things do), so I take 2 Ranitidine a day for my hellish heartburn – they mostly work brilliantly and when they don’t quite do the job, I top them up with ice cream!” daisy_doodles

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“I have used them through 3 pregnancies the doc prescribed them (and if I run out I buy them from Asda) I have had no side effects and found them brilliant!! My heartburn was really bad (Gaviscon didn’t do a thing) and I could have kissed the doc when he gave me this!” Michelle07

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