indigestion and heartburn in pregnancy

Indigestion and Heartburn in Pregnancy

There is a risk of heartburn during pregnancy as hormones released can soften muscles in a valve that connects the oesophagus and stomach. There is also added pressure on the stomach from the uterus and this combination can cause gastric acid to flow into the oesophagus. This can cause irritation, heartburn and the associated pain. Due to the activity of these stomach acids indigestion can also occur.


During pregnancy you may sometimes feel pain in your upper abdomen, most likely caused by indigestion. If you experience a burning feeling that rises into your chest, this is most probably heartburn. Symptoms such as belching are common as gastric juice refluxes into the oesophagus.

indigestion and heartburn in pregnancy

During late pregnancy heartburn can become more serious and intense especially if you are resting on your back. The problem is made worse if you are overweight and have an extra large baby or twins, as there is then added pressure on the stomach. Another possible cause for heartburn in pregnancy is a hiatus hernia. This is caused by a weakness in the valve between the oesophagus and stomach. Another possible cause of indigestion can be ulcers, either stomach or duodenum, but these are very rare during pregnancy.


Preventing Indigestion and Heartburn


Diet can play a big role in preventing or reducing the affects of indigestion and heartburn in pregnancy. If you are suffering, then try to eat smaller meals, rather than large ones, every 2 to 3 hours. This will place less stress on your stomach. Once you’ve eaten, try to remain seated and avoid any strenuous activity for an hour or so, becuae this can exacerbate acid reflux. Before going to bed, try to eat a low GI snack which should help settle your stomach through the night. Heartburn and indigestion are made worse by caffeine based drinks such as coffee and colas, so avoid these. Also steer clear of fatty foods.


Different women react in different ways to certain foods during pregnancy. Although alkaline antacid food sources such as yoghurt and milk can neutralise stomach acid, they can in some women make matters worse as the stomach can produce even more acid half an hour to an hour and 1/2 later on. If you find that these foods make matters worse, then try to take a small amount of diluted fruit juice and see if that helps.

Any body positions which crunch up the stomach can make heartburn and indigestion worse. So try to sit upright rather than slouch and if it helps, sleep in a slightly elevated position rather than flat on your back.

If you take extra iron for anaemia, and are suffering from heartburn, it is possible that the two are connected. Try a different iron supplement such as an organic form and see if that makes a difference.

Depending on where you live, the acidity levels of your water can also cause heartburn. You can reduce the acidity of water through infusions such as herbal teas like mint and camomile.

During meals, do not drink too much water or other fluids as this increases the size of your stomach. Stick to drinking water prior to eating instead.


Medication for Indigestion and Heartburn


There are certain heartburn medications which are not suitable for pregnancy, such as H2 receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitor drugs. These do reduce the production of gastric acids but it can cause complications for a pregnant woman, so be careful not to take anything unless you’ve already spoken to your doctor. There are times when your doctor will prescribe these in cases of very severe pain where other treatments won’t work but it needs to be under strict medical supervision.


Any medications that are high in sodium or aluminum should also be avoided. Fortunately, heartburn and indigestion often reduce in severity after pregnancy, although a hiatus hernia incurred during gestation will have to be fixed or the symptoms will persist.


Alternative therapies


Aromatherapy can lessen the symptoms. Massaging with the lemon or ginger oil in the early stages of pregnancy has been reported to alleviate the symptoms. You can also use these two oils while bathing.


There are various homoeopathic treatments for heartburn, but also several that should not be used during pregnancy. If you wish to try homoeopathy, then it would be best consult a practitioner before buying something off the shelf.