Heartburn, another name for acid reflux, is an occasional discomfort for many people, but during pregnancy, even the mildest things can set it off. As the pregnancy progresses, the symptoms of acid reflux can get worse. This is due to the growing baby and uterus putting pressure on the stomach. In early pregnancy, acid reflux is more commonly due to hormones and other bodily changes.
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Heartburn occurs when the stomach contents make their way back up the digestive tract. There is band of muscle at the base of the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach that acts like a gate by preventing stomach contents from flowing upwards, according to FamilyDoctor.org. When it is forced open for various reasons, the result is a burning sensation in the chest along with other symptoms.
In normal situations, heartburn often occurs due to eating a food that the stomach doesn't agree with. Some common trigger foods include hot spices, says the American Pregnancy Association, along with caffeine, alcohol, peppery foods, fatty foods and fried items. During pregnancy, a woman's stomach may prove more likely to become upset by even the mildest of foods. This occurs because of slowed digestion. When a woman becomes pregnant, a hormone called relaxin is produced. It is responsible for relaxing joints in the body in preparation for labor. This hormone appears early in pregnancy. Its effect on the digestive system leads to slowed processing of stomach contents. The result is food sitting longer in the stomach making it easier for them to flow back up the esophagus. Many woman also experience constipation because of this hormone.
The most characteristic symptom of acid reflux is the burning sensation in the chest. In addition to this, a woman may feel nausea, stomach upset and she may even regurgitate a vomit-like substance into her mouth. During early pregnancy, these symptoms can be similar to morning sickness. Morning sickness, especially when it leads to vomiting, can contribute to heartburn symptoms.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends taking steps to prevent acid reflux before using an over-the-counter medicine. Pregnant women can eat small, frequent meals throughout the day to keep the stomach from getting too full. Eating and then lying down can exacerbate symptoms. Known trigger foods should be avoided. Drinking fluids while eating can make acid reflux more likely. Instead, a woman should drink before or after the meal. Tight-fitting clothing and bending over should be avoided as they can put pressure on the stomach and encourage food and acids to move upwards. Sleeping at an incline may improve symptoms of heartburn if they occur frequently at night.
When prevention methods aren't successful a pregnant woman can try a glass of low-fat milk or a cup of low-fat yogurt. The American Pregnancy Association suggests this may neutralize acid. Another similar remedy directs women to mix a tablespoon of honey in a glass of warm milk.
When home remedies have not successful results, a health care provider can recommend safe over-the-counter or prescription antacids. Not all over-the-counter antacids prove safe for use during pregnancy. Some contain high levels of sodium, which can cause swelling. According to American Family Physician, antacids made with aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide are typically considered safe for use during pregnancy, but a woman's doctor may have a different recommendation. Any antacid when used frequently may become harmful to the unborn baby.