10 Natural Remedies for Heartburn during Pregnancy
What are some of the causes for heartburn in pregnancy?
A lot of moms never experience heartburn until they are pregnant for the first time. Described as a burning sensation behind the breast bone – sometimes with a sulfur-like or acidic taste in your mouth. It is a very common symptom experienced in healthy pregnancies, it’s estimated 80% of women experience some degree of heartburn, constipation and hemorrhoids during pregnancy.* It can be incredibly uncomfortable and often adds to the feeling of not wanting or being able to eat foods you used to enjoy. So why does heartburn happen in pregnancy?
According to the American Pregnancy Association heartburn in pregnancy occurs when “the valve between the stomach and the esophagus are unable to prevent stomach acid from passing back into the esophagus. During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone causes the valve to relax, which can increase the frequency of heartburn. This allows stomach acid to pass into the esophagus and irritate the lining.”
Hormones + a growing baby and expanding uterus can really amp up the incidence of heartburn and indigestion in the later months and weeks of pregnancy, although some pregnant moms feel heartburn in the early weeks as well.
What are some ways to treat or prevent heartburn?
While its unlikely you can completely prevent this common pregnancy symptom, there are ways to minimize the discomfort with natural remedies and eating habits.
Eating smaller meals through out the day
Eating 5-6 smaller meals during the day, as opposed to the standard 3, can be a game changer for mommas with heartburn. You are feeding yourself more frequently, which is great for a list of other things, but also you aren’t over filling your stomach. Over eating is a common culprit of heartburn in and of itself, paired with pregnancy, you are sure to end up with heartburn by overeating.
Avoiding greasy and fatty foods
This one is a no brainer; but let’s discuss. We need some fat in our diets for healthy brain development. But a diet with too much fat can cause unhealthy weight gain, stomach upsets, nausea, heartburn, the list continues. Avoiding fast or fried foods are a good place to start with this one.
Maintain an upright position after eating
Avoid bending over or lying down for at least an hour after meals. If you need to lie down, try propping yourself up in a semi-sitting (at least a 45 degree angle) position. Sleeping on your left side can also help.
Using Digestive Enzymes
Papaya enzymes, from dried or fresh papaya, assist in breaking down food proteins into simpler, easier to digest amino acids, leading to improved digestion and decreased stomach acid production. It is suggested that the digestive enzymes abundant in papain can lead to decreased acid reflux symptoms by lessening the body’s digestive workload.
Ginger or Peppermint tea
Small sips of warm ginger or peppermint tea with meals can aid in digestion and keep those stomach acids where they belong. Careful not to drink a lot of fluids with your meals, that can add to the issue and actually cause heartburn. The key is small sips every few bites. A few drops of high quality peppermint essential oils in warm water can also do the trick.
Mindfulness while eating
We are so busy as moms and care givers that we often don’t take the time we need to take care of ourselves. We rush through our lunch breaks or meal times with quick, ready to eat, prepared foods. But eating too much too fast is a sure way to end up with heart burn. What is eating mindfully? Essentially, slowing down to be mindful and aware about what and how you are eating. Taking the time to sit at a table or designated space with your meal or snack, so you are only involved in the task of eating. Thinking about the positive (or negative) ways you are nourishing and sustaining your body; chewing slowly and thoroughly, allowing for the stimulation of saliva, which can help in the breakdown of your food; Listening to your body’s response about how much you should eat, you may start to feel full before your plate is clear, that’s okay – save the rest for a snack later. For more information about eating mindfully check out this fun post, while not geared towards pregnant women specifically it has lots of good tips.
Chewing gum may be helpful in providing relief from heartburn. Chewing gum stimulates saliva, which contains bicarbonate. The saliva and bicarbonate are swallowed, and the bicarbonate neutralizes the acid that has backed up (refluxed) into the esophagus. I tend to buy only a couple of brands of gum, this one is my favorite.
(This may not help in people who have GERD, which is chronic acid reflux, based on the premise that chewing gum causes you to swallow air and could make your symptoms worse. )
Avoiding tight clothing
Restrictive clothing, like tight fitting bras or tank tops, in the upper abdominal area can aggravate heartburn. If you find you are feeling uncomfortable after every meal, try wearing looser fitting clothing.
Dairy can be triggering for some, so if you already don’t do well with dairy then this one isn’t for you… But if you tolerate yogurt then you may find this remedy to be helpful. Essentially a good yogurt contains many probiotics (good bacteria) which can soothe a stomach lining that has been aggravated by acid reflux.
While almonds have many health benefits, there is lack of quality research specifically pertaining to almonds and acid reflux. However, based on their nutrition profile, almonds could have a positive impact on acid reflux due to the amino acids they contain that help heal the stomach lining and also help cut down the acid production. Typically just a small handful of almonds are needed to feel the effects, before or after a meal.
When should a doctor or midwife be called for heartburn during pregnancy?
Call your doctor or midwife if you:
- Have severe heartburn or chest pain,
- Your heartburn symptoms don’t improve with lifestyle changes or treatment
- Have a fever, headache, nausea, or vomiting with your heartburn
- Choke when you eat, have difficulty swallowing, or feel as if food is “stuck” in your throat
- Lose weight without trying
- Vomit bright red blood or your vomit looks like coffee grounds
- Have black, tarry stools
- These may be signs of another medical condition that needs to be treated right away.
Resources compiled for this article from the following;
Myles, Textbook for Midwives, 14th edition.
American Pregnancy Association
Family Herbal, Rosemary Gladstar
Pregnancy Childbirth and Newborn, co-authored by Penny Simkin