Why Do Pregnant Women Get SO Much Heartburn?

by Jenny Hansen

Photo via Canwest News ~ Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Canwest News ~ Wikimedia Commons

It’s kinda depressing to think about how many odd symptoms pregnant women get, but one that seems universal is heartburn.

I had heartburn so bad my first trimester I had to go on medication. I thank God I had a high-risk OB who was in the know about the topic because my regular doctor said, “Just take Tums.”

I wanted to say: Um…excuse me, kind Sir, but that would be like pissing on a forest fire. Tums, indeed.

When I went for the monthly check-up with the high-risk doc (who I’d still like to build a shrine to) he asked me how things were going.

I shared that I’d been waking up with choking acid-in-the-throat heartburn. I’d bolt upright, trying to breathe. Then I’d have to walk around for more than an hour before I could go back to bed or I’d start choking again.

It was terrifying.

I was afraid to take too many Tums and the only other piece of advice I’d been given was, “Don’t eat within 6 hours of the time you plan to go to bed.”

Are you kidding me?? You want a pregnant woman to go 14 hours without food? It amazes me what people are willing to say to pregnant women.

What are pregnant women allowed to take for heartburn?

My high-risk guy not only gave me a plan to stop the heartburn, he told me why women get it. I’m going to share all that with you.

He told me to start taking Pepcid AC. After 3 weeks, if it did nothing to stop the choking heartburn, he would give me a prescription for Protonix, which has also been put on the safe list for pregnancy.

Protonix helped save my pregnant sanity. I never woke up choking on stomach acid again.

Note: You should stop taking Protonix when your baby’s born if you plan to breastfeed.

What other remedies will soothe heartburn?

Many women swear by papaya and papaya enzyme, BUT there’s a caveat to this. While papaya is an excellent source of vitamin C and many other nutrients, it MUST be very ripe. There is a substance called Papain, found in an unripe papaya’s latex and leaves, that can cause uterine contractions.

If you are in a high-worry pregnancy anyway, you might want to keep papaya off your list. The papaya enzymes sold in health food stores come from ripe papaya, but I’ll leave this decision to you. Click here for a great article on the papaya issue.

I’ve also heard great things about raw or roasted almonds (they have to be unsalted) and tart green apples for preventing heartburn naturally.

WHY do pregnant women get such bad heartburn?

During pregnancy, women secrete TEN TIMES their normal amount of a hormone called Relaxin. Relaxin is a force that does both good and evil.

On the “pro” side…
This hormone relaxes the muscles, joints and ligaments in the pelvis so that a baby can pass through the birth canal. Relaxin keeps us from dying in childbirth. That’s some great stuff.

I was so flexible and loose-jointed during pregnancy that my shoulders would literally collapse while I laid down, then click back into place as a stood up. It creeped my husband out but it’s very normal.

The downer side of Relaxin:
This abnormal motion in so many joints can cause inflammation and pain. Here is an article about Relaxin and back pain.

My doc explained that Relaxin also softens the muscles of the esophagus and the valve at the top of the stomach, causing heartburn.

Normally there is a positive pressure downward, that holds the small, muscular flap (hiatal valve) at the top of your stomach closed. During pregnancy, this pressure softens and goes negative, allowing the valve to open and for acid to come up into the esophagus. Ouch.

What other pregnancy-related changes cause indigestion?

  • The pressure of a growing uterus on a pregnant mom’s stomach worsens indigestion.
  • Pregnancy hormones slow down the rate at which your stomach processes food.

What can YOU do to fight the effects of heartburn and indigestion?

  1. Try eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. This will help your stomach to process food more easily and will reduce bloating.
  2. Avoid spicy or fried foods, which can trigger heartburn (although I’ve heard from several friends that they CRAVED these foods).
  3. Yes, it does reduce heartburn to avoid eating before you go to bed. I leave this up to your discretion.
  4. Sleep propped up on a lot of pillows.
  5. If your indigestion just won’t go away, do what I did and talk to your doctor about an antacid that is safe to take during pregnancy.

Do you have any heartburn remedies to share? Was heartburn a part of pregnancy for your or your pregnancy partner? Continue the discussion at the #SocialIn hashtag on Twitter.

~ Jenny


About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

© 2013 Jenny Hansen. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact me at the above links to request permission.

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