Heartburn is a common discomfort during pregnancy. Between 40 and 80 percent of women have symptoms of heartburn, indigestion, or acid reflux while they’re expecting. It can start anytime during pregnancy, but it’s more common in the second and third trimester as the baby grows.
Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms, causes, and complications of heartburn in pregnancy, along with tips for dealing with it.
It may burn, but it doesn’t have anything to do with your heart. Heartburn happens when food and acid from your stomach move back into your esophagus (the tube that goes from the back of your mouth to your stomach).
It doesn’t hurt when the acid is in your stomach because the cells that make up the stomach lining are meant to hold acid and the enzymes that break down food. But, the lining of the esophagus is more sensitive than the lining of the stomach. So, when what’s in the stomach backs up into the esophagus, it causes irritation that feels like a burning sensation. And, even though it’s in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the spot of the burning feels like it’s near your heart, which gives it the name of “heartburn.” It’s sometimes called acid reflux or indigestion, too.
Heartburn usually comes on after meals, and it’s often worse at night
or when you’re lying down for a nap. When the acid flows back into the esophagus, it can go all the way up to the back of the throat and cause these symptoms:
The symptoms of heartburn can go away in just a few minutes or last a few hours. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing, so they can determine if it’s heartburn.
Many parts of the body go through changes during pregnancy, including your digestive tract. When you’re expecting a baby, your body makes more of the hormones progesterone and relaxin.
Progesterone causes the stomach to empty more slowly after you eat while relaxin calms or relaxes the smooth muscle in your body. The ring, or sphincter, around the bottom of the esophagus that keeps the food and stomach acid in your stomach, is made up of smooth muscle.
Because of these hormones, the food stays in the stomach longer, and can more easily back up into the esophagus. Additionally, as the weeks go on and your belly gets bigger, your expanding uterus and growing baby begin to put pressure on your stomach. This pressure can push the contents of the stomach past the weakened sphincter and up into the esophagus, also leading to heartburn.
Of course, you can get heartburn during pregnancy for the same reasons you might get heartburn when you aren’t carrying a child. Other things that cause heartburn are:
- Spicy foods
- High-fat foods and processed meats
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Chocolate, caffeine, and soda or other drinks with carbonation
- Certain medications