Heartburn In Pregnancy

Guest post by Dr. Michelle Sands
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Pregnancy is a beautiful time in a woman’s life, but can also be filled with discomforts.  One of them is heartburn.  Even for women like me, who had not experienced heartburn before,  pregnancy can turn you into a fire-breathing dragon (or at least that is how it feels).

Pregnancy heartburn is pretty common, and can occur throughout pregnancy.  Some unlucky women experience it starting in the first trimester and intensifying through the third, while other women only notice it in the later stages.

Here is everything you need to know about pregnancy heartburn – how to avoid it, and what you need to do to get some relief – naturally.

What causes heartburn?

There are many possible causes of heartburn during pregnancy, including:

Pregnant woman with heartburnHormones

Well, hormones are involved in pretty much everything when you are pregnant!  Elevated progesterone causes the valve that prevents stomach acids from passing back into the oesophagus to relax, allowing for acids to pass more easily and irritate the lining.

Hormones also slow down digestion, causing less stomach acid to be produced.

Although it can seem counter intuitive, less stomach acid actually creates heartburn and acid reflux.

Close Quarters

Baby takes up more and more room in your abdomen, as the pregnancy goes along. Baby compresses all your digestive organs and diaphragm up into less space, leaving it easier for stomach contents to pass back up into the oesophagus.  This becomes particularly prominent in the 3rd trimester.

Natural ways to relieve pregnancy heartburn

Since we need our hormones elevated and we want our babies to grow, we need to look for natural ways to relieve pregnancy heartburn, and natural ways to prevent it from happening in the first place. Most women with healthy, normal pregnancies will find easy, convenient, and effective measures to relieve heartburn discomfort naturally.

Of course, as with everything in life, there are exceptions to this.  If you find your pregnancy heartburn persists or seems extra severe, talk to you doctor or midwife.

Here are some natural pregnancy heartburn remedies:

Apple Cider Vinegar

Raw apple cider vinegar

Mix 1-teaspoon vinegar (building up to 1 Tablespoon) with approximately 8 ounces water. Sip throughout the day and an hour before meals.

I love Apple Cider Vinegar for alleviating heartburn in pretty much anyone who gets it, and since it is so natural, it is great for mamas to be.

OK –I know it seems strange to think about drinking vinegar when your chest is burning.  But remember, low stomach acid actually creates heartburn, so this works because it increases the acids, resulting in relief.  Make sure the vinegar is raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar.

Lemon

Fresh lemon in water

Again, this is a tip that I give all of my patients, especially those with any kind of digestive issues.  Squeeze 1 lemon into a minimum of 8 ounces water.  Heat for tea or leave cold water for lemonade/juice.  You may add a bit of organic honey or stevia for flavor.

Lemon juice increases the production of digestive juices and bile, which helps balance low stomach acids and aids in digestion.

Ginger Tea

Ginger tea**

Grate ½ – 1 tsp. ginger to 8 ounces hot water for tea. Steep for 10 minutes. Enjoy.  Ginger is also great for nausea relief as well.  Kill two angry birds with one stone!

**Use in moderation. Ginger can possibly lead to contractions, if used frequently or in high doses.

Glass of Iced Water

Plain old water

Drink lots of water,  throughout the day – but not all at once.   Pounding all of your water in one sitting actually increases the risk of heartburn, particularly when baby’s larger size is pushing your stomach upwards. Instead, sip water all day long. Consistent intake of water keeps things flushing through and hydrates, which will reduce heartburn.

Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds

Crush a small amount of fennel seed. Add to the above lemon recipes, either as a hot tea or a cold drink. The flavour of fennel works great with lemon! Fennel by itself is lovely too. Steep crushed fennel see in hot water and ENJOY!

Fennel seeds and fennel seed oil ward off heartburn. They naturally soothe the digestive tract, reduce acid, and decrease inflammation. Like ginger though, excessive or frequent amounts of fennel is presumed to lead to contractions. Again, use in moderation!

Pineapple and Bananas

High Enzyme Foods

Pineapple, avocados and bananas all contain naturally-ocurring enzymes that helps us breakdown our food. Some mamas swear by papaya enzymes but I recommend skipping these (especially the green variety) during pregnancy as it could lead to early contractions.  Stick to the bananas, avocados and pineapples.

Fermented Canned Food

Fermented foods

Fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, kim chi, and kefir are filled with enzymes and good bacteria which support healthy digestion. These are especially important to include when eating a high protein meal or before bed.  That pickle craving is making some sense.

Jello

Gelatinous Foods and herbs

Aloe Vera, Bone Broth, Chia and Flax seeds, plus Slippery Elm Bark and Marshmallow Root are all great at soothing the digestive tract and reducing inflammation.

You can filet the outer skin off an aloe vera plant, then add the gummy center to a smoothie.  Bone broth can be sipped as is, or you can use it as a soup base.  Good old fashioned “jello” works great here too.  Dessert anyone?

Chia and Flax seeds can be added to salads and smoothies, incorporated into recipes or even just taken in water.

Mucilaginous herbs like Slippery Elm Bark and Marshmallow Root, due to their gummy consistency, coat the intestines and soothe digestion. Be sure to use under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner and away from food and supplements at they can interfere with nutrient absorption.

Natural Medicine

HCL and Pepsin Supplements

Sometimes we need more support, so we can boost our HCL & Pepsin reserves by taking a supplement like this one. Our body naturally produces HCL & Pepsin any way, so it’s a great natural option that’s extremely effective when nothing else works. Most mamas do well with 1-2 per meal but follow the instructions on bottle. Reduce your dose if you feel any burning in your stomach. Plant digestive enzymes are another option.

Some lifestyle changes that could help reduce your incidence of heartburn

What and how you eat or don’t eat can make all the difference with heartburn during pregnancy. Here are a few tips:

  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day
  • Try to make your main meal at lunchtime – this takes pressure of the digestive tract later in the day when the body is tired or ready for bed
  • Try to avoid eating a couple of hours before bed or a nap
  • Stay sitting upright after eating, lying down can push stomach contents back up
  • When sleeping, prop head with a couple of pillows, this positioning may help.
  • Stay hydrated – sip water and liquids throughout the day and between meals, rather in larger quantities
  • Try naturally sweetened gum after a meal – chewing stimulates your salivary glands, naturally neutralizing acids
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Most vegetable, particularly your greens
  • Green drinks or smoothies are a great way to get the greens in for relief, nutrition, and hydration!
  • Herbal teas, such as peppermint (only up to 2nd trimester), chamomile, and lemon tea
  • Garlic – a clove of garlic a day keeps heartburn away! Or at least some say so. If you choose garlic capsules make sure they are rich in allicin to be effective with heartburn. As always, before taking supplements, check with your midwife to make sure they are right for you.

By adding in as many of the alkalizing foods and lifestyle suggestions in your daily routine, will help balance the hormonal side effects. Also consider avoiding the more aggravating food and behavior culprits.

What to avoid:

Avoid tight fitting clothes if you have heartburn during pregnancy. It puts even more pressure on your organs.

Drinking beverages while you eat. This dilutes your digestive juices, making them less effective.

Avoid eating the following aggravating acidic foods:

  • Chocolate
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated and sugar beverages, like tea, coffee, soda, etc.
  • Onions
  • Coffee
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Mustard
  • Spicy, fatty, rich, and fried foods
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Large quantities of meat in one sitting – the body works harder if overloaded or too rich

Everyone is different

Just as we all look a little bit different on the outside, we also all look a little different on the inside.  For this reason, what works for one mama may not work for you.

My suggestion:  If any one of these suggestions for natural remedies and relief for heartburn during pregnancy doesn’t work – TRY ANOTHER. Keep moving down the list.  Your body may respond better to one than another, which is why I wanted to give as many suggestions as possible.

If all else fails, try 1/8 tsp. of baking soda in water.  You might be one of the few who actually do have too much stomach acid. This will serve as a natural antacid.

About the Author

Dr Michelle SandsDr. Michelle Sands is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) with a Medical Degree from the University of Bridgeport.  She is Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and a Certified Personal Trainer, but first and foremost, she is a loving wife and a proud mom.

Michelle believes that nature provides us will everything we need to live optimally.  She also understands that in today’s modern world, our bodies get exposed to lots of un-natural things that take away from that optimal level of health.

Dr. Sands is passionate about helping women, specifically moms, to harness the power of nature so they can return to a life where they are happy, healthy and hot.  Dr. Sands uses modern science, functional lab testing, holistic lifestyle modifications, natural supplementation, and eastern philosophies to restore healthy and increase vital energy in her patients.

Michelle enjoys an active lifestyle and is a 7 time Ironman triathlon finisher, ultra-marathoner, former competitive kickboxer, and fitness competitor.  She loves to explore new cultures, meet new people, and wear her pajamas to work.

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