Heartburn During Pregnancy: Causes and Treatment

Whether you’ve experienced heartburn before or are completely new to the condition, read on to learn more about the causes of heartburn during pregnancy, and what you can do to prevent or treat it.

What Is Heartburn and What Are the Symptoms?

If you’ve never had heartburn before, you might think it has something to do with your heart. Actually, it has nothing to do with the heart! Heartburn happens when the contents of your stomach flow backward up into your esophagus (the tube that connects the stomach to the throat). Sometimes heartburn is referred to as acid reflux. Because the acids from your stomach irritate your esophagus, when you have heartburn you feel a burning sensation in your throat and chest at the heart level, hence the name. More than 50 percent of moms-to-be experience heartburn at some point during pregnancy. For some of them, it can be the first time they experience heartburn, which can be startling and even worrisome.

What Causes Heartburn During Pregnancy?

Heartburn is most likely to strike at certain times during pregnancy when certain changes take place in your body:

  1. During the first trimester, a surge in pregnancy hormones can cause your digestive system to slow down in order for nutrients to absorb more slowly into your bloodstream and eventually get to your baby. This means it takes longer for your stomach to empty, sometimes leading to indigestion and heartburn. Pregnancy hormones also relax the valve between your stomach and esophagus, so acid is more likely to leak into your esophagus.

  2. Then, as your pregnancy progresses into the third trimester, your growing uterus pushes your stomach higher up. This pressure on your stomach can force stomach acids back up into your esophagus, leading to heartburn.

Preventing Heartburn

Here are 10 tips for preventing heartburn during your pregnancy:

Treating Heartburn

The prevention measures listed above may help relieve your symptoms, but if your heartburn is very bothersome, contact your healthcare provider, who may recommend medication. Don’t take antacids or acid blockers without checking with your provider first. Most over-the-counter antacids are safe to use during pregnancy, but you'll want to avoid those that contain aluminum or aspirin. Some antacids have high levels of sodium and can increase fluid retention or worsen constipation. This is why it’s best to consult your provider first about which medication is safe for you to take while pregnant.

The Bottom Line

Heartburn can be an annoying sensation, especially if you’re already dealing with a lot of other pregnancy symptoms. Luckily, there are effective ways to help prevent and treat heartburn. You can start by making a few changes to your diet and eating smaller meals spaced throughout the day. If heartburn tends to strike at night, propping yourself up and not eating in the hours before bed can help prevent it. If home remedies don’t help, contact your healthcare provider, who can recommend a safe over-the-counter antacid. Soon enough, you’ll be holding your baby in your arms and heartburn—as well as other pesky pregnancy symptoms—will be a distant memory!