Pregnant woman in bed

Ways to Find Relief from Pregnancy Heartburn

By Marisa Cohen
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
April 03, 2023

You may be thoroughly enjoying that lasagna—until a few bites later, when your chest starts burning and a sour taste fills your mouth. Heartburn strikes again!

It’s estimated that up to 45% of pregnant people will experience the uncomfortable burning sensation known as acid reflux or heartburn.

What Is Heartburn?

Despite the name, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. Rather, it occurs when acid from your stomach moves up to your esophagus (the tube that moves food from the throat to the stomach), causing a feeling of burning and squeezing. Heartburn can also give you nausea, a cough or sore throat, or a raspy voice.

Why Do You Get Heartburn During Pregnancy?

Normally, a little valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, which sits between the esophagus and stomach, opens up to let food pass through and then immediately closes shut. This mechanism may not work quite the same during pregnancy.

“During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone, which causes muscles to relax, can disrupt the action of the sphincter, causing it to stay open when it shouldn’t, and allowing the stomach acid to travel up into the esophagus,” explains Alex Robles, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in New York City.

Also, as your uterus grows to accommodate your baby, it can push up everything that’s in its way, including the stomach, says Tara Scott, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn and medical director at Forum Health, in Akron, Ohio.

What Can You Do About Pregnancy Heartburn?

Even though heartburn isn’t considered a serious medical issue and will likely go away after your pregnancy, it can be very uncomfortable. Here are some steps you can take to find relief from pregnancy heartburn, or even prevent symptoms:

  • Avoid trigger foods: Scott recommends staying away from caffeine, tomato-based foods, citrus fruits and juices, chocolate, and spicy or fatty foods, as these can contribute to heartburn.
  • Eat smaller meals: Rather than sitting down for three big meals a day, try eating a small meal every two to three hours, advises Robles. “The longer you spend eating a meal, the longer that sphincter is going to be open,” he explains. And the more of a chance the acid will make its way into the esophagus.
  • Sit up straight: You can help keep stomach acid in the stomach by practicing good posture when you eat. After dinner, wait a few hours before lying down in bed.
  • Sleep with your head elevated: If you experience heartburn during the night, try propping a few pillows under your head and shoulders. By elevating your upper torso, you’ll help gravity pull the stomach acid back down where it belongs.
  • Ask your doctor about antacids: If you’ve tried making lifestyle changes and are still suffering from painful heartburn during pregnancy, Scott suggests talking to your doctor about taking a pregnancy-safe antacid such as Tums or Gaviscon. In some cases, your doctor may even prescribe you medicine to help. Relief at last!

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