Congrats, you’re experiencing the miracle of life, creating a human and growing your family — that’s a beautiful thing. But let’s be honest, pregnancy can be a real shock to a woman’s system, and it comes with a lot of feelings. While many of those are to be expected, one can be particularly surprising — the burning sensation and discomfort in your chest. Surprise! You have heartburn.
Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux. You feel it when stomach acid moves back up into the esophagus — unlike your stomach, your esophagus isn’t designed to handle that acid, so it leaves you with a burning sensation. (Nope, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart.)
There’s an old wives’ tale that women who experience heartburn during pregnancy are having a girl. But these days, there’s no gender discrimination — acid reflux is a condition that affects 80% of pregnant women. So rest assured, it’s normal and even expected to experience reflux, and it’s not dangerous for your baby. Nonetheless, we know it can be scary and uncomfortable, especially if you’ve never had it before.
When someone experiences acid reflux symptoms more than twice a week, they may be diagnosed with the chronic condition gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). And for many pregnant women, that’s highly likely. But the good news is, there are ways to manage it.
Several factors cause heartburn during pregnancy. Even before that bump starts showing, your hormones start changing. Progesterone, a key pregnancy hormone, relaxes muscles — including the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve that sits between the esophagus and the stomach. When that valve is open, it’s more likely that stomach acids will move into the esophagus.
Then, as the baby grows in the second and third trimester, it places growing pressure on the stomach, making acid reflux more likely. And throughout your whole pregnancy, those progesterone-relaxed muscles slow down your digestion, so the fetus can absorb all the nutrition, which leaves you more at risk for discomfort in your digestive system. Luckily, many women experience a reprieve from GERD and reflux symptoms post-baby.
The burning sensation of heartburn in one’s upper body makes acid reflux a very uncomfortable condition for pregnant women. But there are more symptoms than just heartburn — some common symptoms of acid reflux include:
While heartburn and acid reflux aren’t necessarily dangerous, there are potential side effects and things to be aware of with GERD, especially if it becomes a long-term condition. However, it's important to understand what reflux treatments are safe during pregnancy, because your body processes things a little differently than usual for those nine months.
There are several ways to treat symptoms and mitigate the effects of acid reflux when you’re expecting, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications and prescription drugs.
Early in your pregnancy, you can take magnesium, like Maalox, to help neutralize the acid. But in the third trimester, magnesium can interfere with labor contractions, so it's recommended you avoid magnesium-based treatments late in the pregnancy.
In addition, because you’ll want to avoid aspirin during your pregnancy, stay away from Alka Seltzer (though they do make aspirin-free varieties now).
There are also lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your acid reflux during pregnancy.
A major pregnancy lifehack is herbal peppermint tea — it’s cooling and helps to ease digestion and any stomach issues you may experience. However, peppermint tea relaxes the muscles of the uterus, which is known to increase the risk of miscarriage. And while peppermint tea hasn’t been connected with miscarriages in any scientific study, it’s recommended that women with a history of miscarriages avoid drinking the tea. Regardless, be sure to talk to your doctor about how much is safe to consume, and what the best course of action is for you.
If you’re looking for something a bit more Eastern, some women experience abatement of symptoms with acupuncture, muscle relaxation therapies, and yoga.
We know this is a lot of information. Now that you know the symptoms and risk factors of heartburn and pregnancy, we recommend speaking with your doctor, who can recommend a treatment plan that works for your body at various stages throughout your pregnancy.
Above all, rest assured that what you’re going through is normal and manageable — and that soon you’ll have an adorable bundle of joy who’ll bring you bliss that far outweighs the discomfort of acid reflux during pregnancy.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.