Back to Learn

All the Questions You Have About Acid Reflux and Pregnancy

Image of All the Questions You Have About Acid Reflux and Pregnancy
Image of All the Questions You Have About Acid Reflux and Pregnancy

You know the feeling. You’re just settling down for the evening. Maybe you’ve just put the kids to bed. Maybe you’ve been running around all day and it’s the first time you’re getting to put your feet up. You’re looking forward to a little relaxation before bed.

But your body has other ideas.

You feel a burning sensation in your chest. Maybe it’s accompanied by a soreness in your throat. “Am I getting sick?” you may have asked the first time this happened. You may have even started to panic. These days, any sign of something a little bit wrong can lead your mind down a dark path—especially when you’re pregnant.

But chances are, a burning sensation in your chest and/or throat after you eat is nothing to worry about. They’re signs of acid reflux.

Annoying and uncomfortable? Yes.

Worrying? No.

Acid reflux during pregnancy is an incredibly common issue, affecting 80% of all pregnant people. While you don’t need to panic about acid reflux—it causes no harm to your baby—it’s still not ideal.

So read on for more on what acid reflux is, as well ways you can prevent, minimize, and treat it.

What is acid reflux?

After you eat, your food moves from your throat to your esophagus. It goes past a barrier called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and into your stomach. Your stomach is filled with hydrochloric acid that helps digest your food.

Acid reflux happens when acid escapes back up past the LES and into the esophagus. This often results in that burning sensation in your chest, known as heartburn. Heartburn (which, incidentally, has nothing to do with your heart) is a symptom of acid reflux.

Why does heartburn happen during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone causes your LES to relax, making it a less effective barrier in keeping your stomach acid where it belongs: in your stomach.

There’s also that little human growing inside of you. Many people find their heartburn gets worse in the third trimester. That’s because your growing baby is putting pressure on your intestines and stomach, forcing even more acid up into your esophagus.

How early in pregnancy does heartburn typically occur?

For many, heartburn starts partway through the first trimester and lasts until birth. And for many, it gets worse as the baby grows.

How is heartburn during pregnancy different from regular heartburn?

While no one likes heartburn, it can feel even worse when you’re pregnant. That’s because pregnancy heartburn can be accompanied by:

  • asthma and/or shortness of breath
  • difficulty swallowing and/or a sore throat
  • dry cough
  • dyspepsia or indigestion (recurring pain or discomfort in the upper part of your abdomen)
  • back pain
  • nausea
  • regurgitation, burping, or vomiting
  • sour or bitter taste at the back of your mouth

Fun times all around, right?

So the question you’re likely here for: Is there anything I can do to help?

Fortunately, yes. There are several things you can do to manage your acid reflux and heartburn symptoms and decrease the frequency of their reoccurrence.

What helps with acid reflux and heartburn during pregnancy?

Try these things:

  • Eating more frequent, smaller meals, instead of a few big meals. Less food in your stomach at once means less work for your LES to do.
  • Leaving a 2-3 hour gap between your last meal and bedtime (or naptime). Sitting upright or standing helps prevent acid from coming back up, while lying down encourages it. You can also try sleeping on an incline, to help gravity do its work.
  • Chewing sugarless gum after eating. It produces saliva, which helps neutralize stomach acid.
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothes. Pressure on your stomach makes acid reflux worse.
  • Some people report relief after engaging in acupuncture and prenatal yoga, though be sure to discuss these options with your doctor first.

Are there foods that make acid reflux during pregnancy worse?

Yes!

If you’re experiencing acid reflux, try cutting back on:

  • caffeine
  • carbonated beverages
  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits and juices
  • coffee
  • fatty foods
  • mint
  • seafood
  • spicy foods

And while you likely already know this, we do have to add not to smoke tobacco or drink alcohol. Not only will it trigger acid reflux, but it can also be harmful to the fetus.

Your goal is to reduce the acid in your stomach. So it stands to reason that to do so, you want to cut back or even eliminate any especially acidic foods.

What can I do to treat acid reflux during pregnancy?

There are a few things you can do to help yourself get some relief, such as:

  • Eat yogurt or drink a glass of nonfat dairy milk. Dairy helps neutralize acid. Just note that it has to be nonfat because high-fat milk can actually relax your LES and make symptoms worse.
  • Try a tablespoon of honey in a glass of warm nonfat milk or ginger team.
  • Eat fermented foods, like kimchi, kefir, or sauerkraut. The probiotics help with digestion. (Though be careful to check with your doctor first and not to overdo it; too many probiotics in your stomach can also cause problems.)
  • Choose high-fiber foods like oatmeal, couscous, and brown rice that’ll help you feel fuller and avoid overeating (which will lead to that heartburn!).
  • Have alkaline foods handy to offset stomach acid. This includes bananas, cauliflower, fennel, melons, and nuts.
  • Buy “watery foods” that dilute and weaken stomach acid. Think: broth-based soups. celery, cucumbers, lettuce, and watermelon.

If none of these things work, you could consider medications like:

  • Over-the-counter antacids neutralize stomach acid, though it’s important to pick the right ones. Some antacids contain sodium, which can contribute to fluid buildup in the body. And some contain aluminum, which is not safe during pregnancy. You want calcium carbonate antacids, which don’t contain any harmful ingredients.
  • H2 blockers block histamine so your stomach produces less acid.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) also reduce acid production. They don’t act as fast as H2 blockers, but they last longer.

Your obstetrician will be the best person to tell you what medications are safe for you to take while you’re pregnant. It can be differ by person and their current health situation, so always ask!

Will my acid reflux and heartburn go away after I give birth?

In most cases, acid reflux and heartburn that first appear during pregnancy do go away once you give birth. However, for some, especially those who had acid reflux prior to pregnancy, the weakening of the LES remains a problem, and the symptoms of reflux will need to continue to be treated after birth. When acid reflux becomes chronic, it’s referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While not necessarily dangerous, GERD is something you want to keep an eye on and treat as best you can.


In conclusion, even if you’ve never had acid reflux and heartburn before, it’s incredibly normal for you to be having these symptoms now that you’re pregnant. While annoying and uncomfortable, acid reflux and heartburn are not serious for your baby or yourself. They can be managed through a combination of lifestyle changes, diet, and medications.

As always, talk to your doctor to make sure these suggestions are right for you and your baby.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and minimally uncomfortable 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.

Photo by Lucas Favre via Unsplash