In this new series on Giving Birth with Confidence, we’re going to cover some of the most common discomforts that can happen during pregnancy and share tried-and-true ways to help soothe or eliminate them. Pregnancy can be an amazing time in a woman’s life, but it can also be challenging. The reality is that some women’s bodies accept and cope well with pregnancy and some don’t. In any case, having extra tools in your coping toolbox can go along way toward increasing your quality of life during the 4o-ish weeks of pregnancy.
Five Ways to Extinguish the Fire of Heartburn During Pregnancy
By Hillari Dowdle, freelance writer for FitPregnancy
It was heartburn that got me in the end. I could take the swelling, the back pain, the constant trips to the bathroom, the itchy skin, the fatigue, the sweating, the sleeplessness and even the psychological shock of seeing the scale tip 200 pounds. But the constant, searing pain of heartburn made the miracle of pregnancy seem more like a curse—by the middle of my third trimester, my mantra had changed from Please, let him be healthy! to Just get him OUT!
That fiery sensation known as heartburn happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle responsible for keeping stomach contents in their place, begins to relax or leak. this allows stomach acids to flow upward into the esophagus, explains Suzanne Trupin, M.D., CEO of Women’s Health Practice of Champaign, Ill. Pregnant women are prime candidates for two reasons: First, the hormone relaxin—busy limbering up your joints and connective tissue for an easier birth—slows your digestion, meaning food stays in your stomach longer and triggers more acid production. Second, your growing baby exerts pressure on both the stomach and the LES, increasing the chance that acids will be pushed up into the esophagus.
So what’s an expectant mother to do? Follow these five tips to relieve the pain:
1. Eat less, more often
Overeating exacerbates heartburn, says rachel Brandeis, M.S., a registered dietitian in Atlanta who specializes in prenatal nutrition. “When you’re pregnant, there’s less room for your stomach to expand,” she explains. Maintaining a sensible diet will not only stave off heartburn in the short term, but throughout your pregnancy as well, because gaining more than the recommended weight puts more pressure on your abdomen, which can trigger the condition. Instead of three meals a day, aim for six mini-meals (See “Mini-Size Me” below) of no more than 1 1⁄2 cups of food each, Brandeis recommends. Smaller meals are easier for your body to digest.
2. Eliminate trigger foods
Identify the foods that intensify your heartburn and banish them from your diet. While there are no universally “banned” foods, common heartburn triggers include acidic foods, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes, greasy or fried foods, spicy foods, chocolate, coffee, carbonated beverages, and alcohol (which, as you well know, you should eliminate anyway!).
3. Focus on fluids
“Liquid-y foods are less likely to cause problems than solids, since they move through the stomach more quickly,” Brandeis says. Soups, smoothies, yogurt, milkshakes, protein shakes and puddings are good choices. Look for liquids that offer plenty of protein, such as milk and drinkable yogurt, and aim to make solids a little less so: “chew solid foods slowly and extremely well, until they’re almost liquefied,” Brandeis adds.
4. Sleep smart
To avoid nighttime heartburn, don’t eat anything for at least three hours before bedtime. Elevate the head of your bed by placing books under the legs, and if you’re not already sleeping on your left side, start now; stomach acids will have to travel uphill to reach the esophagus—no easy feat!
5. Time for Tums
It’s fine to find relief in a bottle of tums or rolaids or other calcium- containing antacids. However, “too much calcium can block iron absorption, so don’t take tums at the same time you take your prenatal vitamin,” Brandeis advises. By the time I gave birth, I estimate I’d ingested my own considerable body weight in tums. This overuse created calcium overload, which may have exacerbated my anemia. If you’re taking antacids 10 times a day (or more—as I was), talk to your doctor: she may want to check for ulcers or a hiatal hernia (where part of the stomach protrudes into the chest cavity), or prescribe medication.
Also, avoid antacids that list aluminum (such as aluminum hydroxide or aluminum carbonate) as an ingredient; it can cause constipation and can even be toxic in large doses. Remedies containing aspirin (such as alka-seltzer) should also be avoided during pregnancy; look for salicylate or acetylsalicylic acid in ingredients lists. You don’t want an antacid containing sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or sodium citrate, either. Both are high in sodium, which causes water retention.
Here’s a sample of what a day’s worth of small, healthful meals looks like:
1 cup of oatmeal with milk and 1 apple
1 cup of yogurt with fruit
1 ⁄2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich and 1 cup of vegetable soup
1 handful of whole-grain crackers and 1 ounce of your favorite hard cheese
2 ounces of chicken, 1 ⁄2 cup of mashed sweet potatoes and 1⁄2 cup of cottage cheese with fruit
Find eight more small snacks that are easy to make, packed with pregnancy nutrients and delicious at fitpregnancy.com/snackideas.
Did you experience heartburn during pregnancy? What helped you get rid of it? Share in the comments — women want to know!