What is heartburn?
Heartburn or pyrosis is a common complaint during pregnancy. It is a painful or burning sensation in the esophagus, just below the breastbone. The pain often rises in the chest and may radiate to the neck, throat, or angle of the jaw. Despite its name, heartburn actually has nothing to do with the heart. It is so-called because of a burning sensation of the breastbone where the heart is located although some heart problems do have a similar sensation to heartburn. Heartburn occurs when the valve between the stomach and the food pipe (esophagus) is unable to prevent the stomach acids from passing back into the esophagus.
Pregnancy increases the frequency of heartburn because the hormone progesterone causes the valve to relax and open. In addition, progesterone also slows down the wavelike contractions of your esophagus and intestines, making digestion sluggish. This allows the stomach acid to pass into the esophagus and irritate the lining. Later in pregnancy heartburn and indigestion are more common because the growing uterus puts pressure on the intestines and the stomach. The pressure on the stomach may also push contents back up into the esophagus.
Preventing heartburn is the best way to deal with it! The majority of sufferers of heartburn or esophageal disorder can link their symptoms to specific foods. Therefore, it is important that you manage your diet as a way to treat heartburn.
Tips to avoid heartburn
- Eat five to six smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large meals.
- Prevent distention of the stomach by limiting the amount of fluid during meals.
- Take small sips of water or thinned tea throughout the tea instead of large amounts.
- Wait an hour after eating to lie down. Try to take a walk after dinner to aid with digestion.
- Avoid spicy, greasy, and fatty foods.
- Limit your consumption of these key food groups: citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes), chocolate, caffeinated drinks, fatty foods or deep-fried foods, garlic, onions, spicy foods like curry and hot wings, and any kind of tomato-based food (pizza, spaghetti, ravioli, the entirety of your favorite Italian diner's menu, etc), mustard, and vinegar; processed meats; mint products; and spicy, highly seasoned, fried, or fatty foods.
- Eat yogurt or drink a glass of milk.
- Try a tablespoon of honey in a glass of warm milk.
- See if chewing gum after meals makes it better.
- If heartburn occurs when lying down, raising the head of the bed, raising the upper body with pillows, or sleeping sitting up frequently provides relief. Avoid pillows that raise the head only, as this does little for heartburn and places a continuous strain on the neck.
- Avoid tight clothing, specifically around the abdomen can increase the risk for heartburn.
- Over-the-counter antacids may prove helpful in relieving you of heartburn problems. Some antacids contain high levels of sodium, which can cause fluid buildup in body tissues. Some may also contain lead.
- Give yourself two to three hours to digest before you lie down and don't eat too close to bedtime.
- Sleep propped up with several pillows or a wedge. Elevating your upper body will help keep your stomach acids where they belong and will aid your digestion.
- Don't smoke or drink alcohol.
If these measures don't help, try over-the-counter antacids that contain magnesium or calcium, but check with your doctor first and stay away from those which contain aluminum or aspirin or are high in sodium.