AFTER overcoming first trimester nausea and finally being able to satisfy the hearty appetite and weird cravings, many pregnant women are disappointed to find out that they have a new problem in their digestive systems — heartburn.
“Heartburn is a condition that causes a burning sensation in the area of the chest,” says Dr Vanessa White-Barrow, registered nutritionist. “This pain tends to happen shortly after someone has had acidic foods, eaten a large meal, is lying down after eating, or eating late in the evening.”
This condition, which actually has nothing to do with your heart, is one that can strike anyone, but pregnant women are most prone to it because of a number of factors, White-Barrow explains.
“This is because the hormone progesterone, which is present during pregnancy, causes the valve between the stomach and the oesophagus (called the lower oesophageal sphincter) to relax. When this happens, acids from the stomach are able to pass into the oesophagus and irritate the lining, causing you to feel a sharp, burning pain in the centre of your chest,” she says.
White-Barrow adds that in an advanced pregnancy, the growing foetus and enlarged uterus push against other organs, and increases the pressure on the stomach and the intestines. This pressure also forces the partially digested acidic food contents from the stomach into the oesophagus, causing heartburn.
Heartburn during pregnancy will go away on its own after delivery. However, during pregnancy, White-Barrow recommends that you can:
Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of big ones
Smaller meals are easier to digest, and get broken down more quickly than larger ones. This significantly reduces the chances of it being pushed back into the oesophagus and causing you pain.
Wait a while after eating before you lie down
We know you just want to lie down until the end of your pregnancy, but staying upright as much as possible goes a long way in preventing heartburn. Since the oesophagus is vertical, it is not very easy for food to flow back into it when you are sitting or standing up.
Sip small amounts of water
Water keeps things flowing in the right direction, and can help to neutralise foods that are very acidic, and soothe the lining of the oesophagus.
Avoid greasy and fatty foods
These foods slow down digestion in the stomach so they stay there longer, and are more likely to cause heartburn.
Consume low-acid foods
Dairy products such as milk and yoghurt put out the ball of fire in your chest, as they are great in soothing the irritated lining of the oesophagus. Also consume carbohydrate snacks such as water crackers, as these are digested easily.
Avoid wearing tight clothing
Pack away clothes as you outgrow them, as tight clothes and bras put additional pressure on the digestive system and make heartburn more likely to happen.
Talk to your doctor
If changes to your diet, posture and meal schedule don't seem to ease symptoms, your doctor might prescribe an antacid. These are also available over the counter, but should be used cautiously especially during pregnancy, as some of them contain high levels of sodium and even aluminium which may be harmful during pregnancy.