Putting Out the Heartburn Fire
The joy and anticipation of pregnancy may be exciting, but your changing body can also have some not-so-pleasant experiences in store. For many women, frequent heartburn starts in the second trimester, just as the morning sickness lets up. Heartburn has nothing to do with the heart, but that doesn't make the burning sensation in your throat and chest any less uncomfortable. Pregnancy can make heartburn more frequent and severe, because the hormones that help loosen your joints for childbirth also relax the valve that keeps the food you eat in your stomach. As if this wasn't enough, your growing baby pushes upward on your stomach, which can cause even more heartburn and acid reflux. Fortunately, some simple changes can help ease the burn, and Tums and other over-the-counter antacids are safe for both you and baby.
What You Can Do
Although you may be tempted to eat large meals to feed your growing baby, try to graze instead by eating smaller meals more frequently. This can be difficult, especially if you had significant nausea in the earlier part of your pregnancy, but it will help keep you more comfortable. Eat slowly rather than letting your hunger get the best of you. Stay away from foods that are greasy or spicy, or that seem to trigger heartburn. If you really miss some of these foods, either eat small portions along with blander foods, or promise yourself a big burger or a bowl of spicy chili after the baby is born. Eating smaller meals more frequently makes heartburn less likely, and as a bonus, it can keep lingering nausea or morning sickness at bay. Try to drink noncarbonated and noncaffeinated fluids between meals, but not while you're eating.
As if your growing belly wasn't unwieldy enough, heartburn can make it difficult to sleep or sit comfortably. Some simple changes can help you sleep more comfortably. If your heartburn is particularly painful at night, try sleeping with your head or upper body elevated. This helps gravity work in your favor to keep the acid down in your stomach where it belongs. Some women find that a pregnancy pillow can help support the head, belly and hips at the same time. Having your last meal or snack at least three hours before bedtime can help ease nighttime heartburn and reflux.
What Is Safe
If positioning and diet changes don't do the trick, you might turn to an over-the-counter antacid to get some relief. Tums, Mylecon, Maalox and Milk of Magnesia are all safe during pregnancy, so you can take them according to the package directions. Tums, in particular, contain just calcium carbonate and sugar. Not only can they help your heartburn, they can be a great way to supplement your calcium intake. If you are also taking an iron supplement, be sure to separate it from the Tums by at least two hours to get the maximum benefit from each supplement.
Stay away from Alka-Seltzer, because its aspirin content makes it dangerous for pregnant women. Generic versions that don't contain aspirin are safe, but read the labels carefully. Always check with your doctor if you aren't sure about a medication.
When to See a Doctor
Pregnancy heartburn is common enough that many women feel like they have to suffer in silence. Dietary and lifestyle changes, along with safe over-the-counter antacids, are usually enough to restore some level of comfort, but if these changes don't do enough to cool the burn, there are prescription-strength medications that can help. Talk with your doctor about what antacids are good choices for you and your baby. If your heartburn is severe and increases in frequency, or if you develop chest pain or difficulty when swallowing, bring this up with your doctor. Fortunately, the heartburn generally goes away once baby is born, so that's one more reason to look forward to holding your new bundle of joy.