Many women experience heartburn for the first time during pregnancy, although rather common and mostly harmless it can be very disturbing. The increase in acidity and heartburn is, in fact, one of the lesser discussed side-effects of pregnancy. Pregnant women, more often than not, are subject to symptoms of heartburn, which usually begins sometime around their second or third trimester and carries on until the end of their pregnancy.
Heartburn is a burning sensation that begins from a person’s stomach and extends till their chest. The lower esophagus that keeps the content of the stomach in place, leaks or becomes weak and lets the acids flow back into the esophagus, hence causing a fiery sensation.
Pregnant women are prone to heartburn and acid reflux for two main reasons; an increase in the amount of progesterone that their body produces during the course of a pregnancy. The change in hormone levels causes the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, resulting in the backwash. Another reason for the increased incidence is the fact that the growing uterus can crowd the abdomen, putting pressure on the stomach and the lower esophagus and forces the stomach acids upwards. These are not the only reasons for heartburn, however, these are most common reasons. Many women experience gastrointestinal issues during their pregnancy that comes and goes during the course until the baby is born.
Despite the inevitability of experiencing heartburn during pregnancy, there are a number of ways to manage and reduce heartburn during pregnancy. Certain common lifestyle changes can help self-manage heartburn during the course of pregnancy.
- Eat slow and small meals: Eating smaller meals with an adequate interval between them as opposed to a few large meals can greatly help in reducing the effects of heartburn and acidity. Eating your food slowly allows your stomach to better digest the food and also prevents you from overeating. These steps go a long way in calming the acidity that might flare up during and after meals.
- Drink water before meals: Sipping on a glass of water before meals would not only help you increase your fluid intake, but also give you a sense of fullness that might prevent you from overindulging during your meals. Intake of fluids should be before or after meals rather than during meals.
- Stand or walk after your meals: It is strongly suggested to stand or walk around for a brief period of time, rather than simply sitting or lying down. Some light activity after meals can help quicken digestion.
- Do not go to bed right after eating: Despite the fatigue that accompanies pregnancy, doctors say that going to bed right after eating a meal, heavy or light, can exacerbate the symptoms of heartburn. The suggested time period of having a meal is 3 hours before bedtime. This gives the body enough time to begin digestion and prevent the reflux of stomach contents while you sleep.
- Elevate your head and chest while sleeping: Putting blocks under the legs of your bed can help in elevating your upper body while you sleep. This prevents the backwash or reflux of the stomach acids up to your esophagus.
- Understand your triggers and avoid it: Different foods elevate heartburn symptoms in different women. It is important to identify and avoid those food items.
- Wear loose fitting clothes: The growing fetus is already putting pressure on your stomach. Added to which, tight fitting clothes would only serve to add to that pressure on your already crammed abdomen. Wearing loose fitting or maternity clothes from an early stage in your pregnancy can help your stomach and abdomen area have some room to breathe.
There are also certain home remedies to relieve the symptoms of heartburn. Antacids can also be considered, however only after consulting with a gynaecologist. Heartburn during pregnancy is not something that has to be dealt with silently. A few changes in lifestyle practices can help towards ensuring a smooth and heartburn free pregnancy.
Dr.Prakash B Shankar
Aster Speciality Clinic, International City
*Aster Clinics are currently running special GERD clinics on Mondays and Thursdays. For more information and appointments, visit – http://asterclinic.ae/gerd-gastroesophageal-reflux-disease/