Heartburn and pregnancy

So, one of the most common complaints in pregnancy that I hear about is acid reflux, also known as heartburn.  Heartburn can lead to chest pain, nausea, vomiting, burning sensation in throat or chest or even a cough to a name a few potential related symptoms.

Women in pregnancy are more susceptible to heartburn because of one physiologic reason – relaxation of the esophageal sphincter.  When food is swallowed, it travels down the esophagus to the stomach.  There is a “doorway” called the esophageal sphincter that keeps stomach acids from moving backwards from the stomach back into the esophagus. 

During pregnancy, this doorway is relaxed and stomach acids move into the esophagus leading to symptoms like a burning sensation in the chest.  Another cause of heartburn in pregnancy includes the enlarging uterus pushing up on the stomach resulting in stomach acids entering the esophagus.

Even though heartburn is difficult to avoid when you are pregnant, there are some basic changes in your lifestyle that you can make in order to prevent symptoms or to make you feel better when you have symptoms.  The following is a list of suggestions that I have adapted from an article entitled, “Acid Reflux during Pregnancy” (UpToDate, 2014).


  • Try eating 4-6 small meals each day.

  • Do not lay down 3 hours after eating or before bedtime.

  • There are some foods that make reflux worse.  Try to avoid caffeine (e.g., coffee, soda, tea, chocolate), citrus foods, and foods with high fat content.

  • Elevate the head of your bed 6-8 inches.

  • Wear loose fitting clothes.

These are similar suggestions that I have read from other reliable resources as well.  A couple of other helpful tips include limit your weight gain in pregnancy.  Your doctor can tell you a healthy amount of weight gain during pregnancy for you.  Of course, you should always stop smoking (whether you have heartburn or not).

Heart burn will usually resolve once the baby is born.  However, if you are currently pregnant and dealing with heartburn, that can seem like an eternity.  Tums, Maalox or even Pepcid can be helpful over the counter medications that can be used to treat heartburn.  Sometimes, your doctor will need to prescribe medication to help your symptoms.  Always ask your doctor before trying any medication, including over the counter medications, during pregnancy.

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