Heartburn and indigestion during pregnancy describe heartburn

Once the nausea of early pregnancy wanes, many women look forward to enjoying their meals again. However, around the middle of pregnancy, heartburn and indigestion may spoil the party. These discomforts can happen at any time, but are more common in the second and third trimesters. Fortunately, they’re rarely serious and are easily treatable.

Heartburn — which actually has nothing to do with your heart — is marked by a burning sensation after meals in your throat or in your chest behind the breastbone. It’s caused by stomach acid coming in contact with the esophagus (the pipe your food travels down). A valve at the bottom of that pipe seals off the top of the stomach when you’re not eating, but when valve is overly relaxed, partially digested food and stomach acid sometimes make their way back up into the esophagus, irritating its sensitive lining.


When you’re expecting, the hormones coursing through your body make the muscles of the digestive system relax, which slows down digestion. The valve in your esophagus may open or leak, allowing acid from the stomach to flow upward. In addition, as your uterus grows, it pushes against the stomach, increasing pressure on the valve.

Avoid eating or drinking things that encourage the valve in the esophagus to relax further. These include greasy or fatty foods, chocolate, caffeine, carbonated drinks, tomato products, citrus juice, peppermint and spearmint, alcohol, onion, garlic, and spicy foods.

• Commit to not smoking or drinking alcohol. Smoking can increase the acidity in your stomach and is linked to premature birth, and drinking during pregnancy — especially binge or heavy drinking — can cause permanent brain damage to the fetus. If necessary, seek help from friends, support groups, or professionals.

One of the best ways to minimize indigestion is to reduce the amount of gas in your body. Gas enters your system when you swallow air or forms inside your body when bacteria work on undigested food in your intestine. Although there is no way to eliminate gas altogether, here are some helpful tips to keep it in check:

• Avoid foods that cause you gas. These may include beans, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, and carbonated drinks. Don’t rule out whole classes of healthy foods, however, as beans and cruciferous vegetables are very nutritious. Instead, keep track of your body‘s reactions to different foods — meals that give your friend indigestion may sit just fine with you — and avoid foods that cause you problems.

• Chew your food thoroughly (try counting how many times you actually chew each bite) and don’t rush through meals. The same goes for beverages. Take your time drinking and avoid gulping, which can introduce more air into your system. Never drink through a straw.

If these prevention techniques don’t work and you want to try an antacid or an anti-gas medication, speak with your doctor or midwife. Your health care provider can prescribe the medication that is best for you or help you make a safe choice of over-the-counter remedies.

Call 911 if you suspect that a sensation similar to heartburn could be a heart attack instead. Because both conditions can cause burning chest pain, pay careful attention to your symptoms. Signs that discomfort may indicate a heart attack, rather than just heartburn, include:

Fortunately, however, heart attacks among pregnant women are still very rare, although the rate has gone up slightly in recent years. In addition, pregnancy itself can increase a womans risk of heart attack 3- to 4- fold, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Because many symptoms of a heart attack are similar to those of common pregnancy discomforts, discuss heart attack awareness with your health care provider if you have any risk factors for heart problems. These include persistent high blood pressure, diabetes, eclampsia or preeclampsia, and getting pregnant later in life.