Heartburn in Pregnancy

Got heartburn and reflux? You can thank your hormones again for that…

Acid reflux is a result of stomach acid entering the oesophagus (food pipe). This occurs during pregnancy due to changes in the hormone progesterone, which relaxes smooth muscles of the body. As a result, the valve between the stomach and the oesophagus is relaxed and consequently allows some gastric acid to enter the oesophagus and cause a burning sensation.

Progesterone also slows down the muscles within the stomach and this causes a reduction in the rate of digestion. Digestion therefore becomes sluggish and contributes to heartburn symptoms.

In addition, as the baby grows it pushes your intestines and stomach upwards. This can also force acid up from the stomach and into the oesophagus.

Here are some suggestions to minimise heartburn in pregnancy. Remember that different things may work at different times in your pregnancy, and different things work for different people. It is often a matter of trial and error.

  • Avoid trigger foods. Some foods are like gasoline and will fire up your heartburn. Avoid spicy and greasy food and coffee.
  • Eat at least 2 hours before bed. This aims to settle your stomach before lying down.
  • Eat slowly. Chew, chew, chew! The more you chew, the less your stomach has to do!
  • Shrink your food and drink – eat smaller and more frequent meals rather than larger ones.
  • Use pillows to prop yourself up at night. Lying down worsens reflux due to gravity.
  • Drink tea such as peppermint or camomile

If these standard measures don’t work:

  • Try taking antacids such as Gaviscon or Mylanta. Do not take Alka Seltzer or Bicarb soda. Gaviscon and Mylanta come in both tablet and liquid form. Tablets are of course easier to carry with you, but the liquid form is more effective as it coats the stomach better.
  • Try taking Zantac. Zantac neutralises stomach acid that has already been produced and works to reduce acid production in the stomach. It is a tablet you can purchase over the counter and it best taken at night.

About the Author:

Dr Grant Saffer is an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist consulting at the Epworth-Freemasons in East Melbourne. Grant specialises in complicated and high-risk pregnancies and ensures his patients are always given an exception level of care. Grant keeps his patients up-to-date with relevant information about their condition which enables them to make informed decisions about their pregnancy and delivery, taking into consideration their beliefs and therapeutic preferences.