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Will Spicy Foods Hurt Baby in the Womb?

By Jaclyn Stewart 12/11/2012 6:44 AM

When you order a sandwich, do you forgo most of the veggies just to add extra hot peppers? Do you hold the record at your local restaurant for eating the spiciest hot sauce? Do you make your family members cry when you serve your spicy chili? If so, you’re probably wondering whether or not your spicy ways are safe during your pregnancy. When you’re swallowing fire and breathing out flames, it’s easy to imagine what kind of damage you’ll do to your growing baby. In an effort to not turn your baby into a fire dragon in the womb, you might have even cut down on the consumption of your favorite habanero sandwich. However, there is good news. As I sat and ate my last spicy vegetarian gumbo, I decided to look into the effects of spicy food on a fetus, and there are none at all.

Spicy foods, no matter how hot, will not harm your baby at all. In fact, they might even shape your baby’s palate so that he or she will come out craving that spicy salsa you’re always eating. However, there’s a good chance you’ll suffer more than usual. During your pregnancy, you’ll get heartburn a lot easier than before. When you become pregnant, a hormone called progesterone relaxes all of the muscles and vessels in your body. While this makes a lot of sense for the day of delivery, it causes trouble otherwise. The hormone relaxes the valve at the base of your esophagus so much that gastric acids creep up easily. Outside of pregnancy, most people have a strong valve that keeps that acid down. Furthermore, your stomach will be constricted as your pregnancy progresses and your baby grows, so the acids will have nowhere to go but up. These two characteristics combine to make heartburn and acid reflux extremely common during pregnancy, and spicy foods will only exacerbate the problem.

Spicy foods increase the amount of acid your stomach produces because it needs to work harder to digest them. When there is more acid in your stomach, there is a higher chance it will creep up into your esophagus after your meal.

Spicy foods are perfectly safe for your baby during your pregnancy. However, lightening up on the heat at least until you’ve delivered your baby will help prevent the pain of heartburn if you’re having any trouble with it.

Source: Bhavadharini Ramu et al: Prevalence and Risk Factors for Gastroesophageal Reflux in Pregnancy. Indian Journal of Gastroenterology Volume 30 Issue 3 pp.144-147 May 2011