EXPERT ADVICE Pregnancy heartburn

No thanks to pregnancy hormones and their growing baby, many expectant mums experience a pesky burning feeling in their chest.

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When Joan Tan, mum to Clifford, 2, was 33 weeks pregnant with her son, she started experiencing intense chest pains, particularly in the middle of the night, while she was sleeping.

“I would be lying in my bed and wake up by a feeling of pressure in my chest. It would be difficult to move, or even breathe. I would also feel like vomiting, although nothing was coming up,” she recalls.

After Tan’s husband helped her up, standing or pacing around her bedroom helped a little. “I would feel better within 45 minutes to an hour, but it disrupted my sleep so much that I was extremely tired during the day,” Tan says.

Heartburn plagues many expectant mums, especially during the third trimester. The main reason for this is that the hormone that relaxes muscles during pregnancy also relaxes the stomach muscles that keep the gastric juices out of the oesophagus.

Because of the pressure that the baby is putting on the stomach, the acids tend to go up the oesophagus, causing pain or discomfort around the chest.

Because of the pressure that the baby is putting on the stomach, the acids tend to go up the oesophagus, causing pain or discomfort around the chest

SmartParents’ expert Dr Christopher Chong, a Gleneagles Hospital obstetrician-gynecologist says that heartburn can feel something like indigestion with a burning sensation in the chest.

“It’s quite common, but most cases are not so severe. Pregnant woman with a history of heartburn or gastritis before pregnancy tend to get it worse,” he says.

Dr Chong also adds that medication may not help in more severe cases, and it can cause bleeding and ulcers in the stomach.

As hormones and your baby’s growth are the main causes of pregnancy heartburn, Dr Chong warns that “it’s difficult to prevent heartburn”. However, you can do to relieve the discomfort.

1. Exercise

Working out regularly can help relieve heartburn a little. However, don’t go overboard, especially during the third trimester. “With the tiredness from carrying a heavier load, this can cause heartburn to worsen,” Dr Chong explains.

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2. Eat wisely

Some foods aggravate your heartburn, some foods soothe it. For instance, acidic foods like chocolate, alcohol, coffee, tea, sugar and citrus fruits can make heartburn worse.

So, neutralise any acidity with alkalising foods. These include almonds, most vegetables, avocados, garlic and herbal teas like peppermint and chamomile.

3. Eat less at shorter intervals

Instead of having three large meals, opt for six smaller meals, since an overly full tummy can make heartburn worse. Relax and enjoy your food slowly ― rushing can cause the acids to rise quickly.

Have a larger meal in the middle of the day when you’re out and about. Make dinner a light one, and avoid eating at least two hours before bedtime.

4. Hydrate

Drinking water is important to neutralise the acids and flush it through your system, but go slow. Take little sips though out the day, and especially between your meals. Drinking while eating may make your feel excessively full, causing you to feel like throwing up.

Avoid bending over, or lying down after eating, as these postures can push your stomach contents back up.

5. Dress suitably

Avoid tight fitting clothes, as these compress your organs more, making you feel uncomfortable. Instead, go for loose-fitting maternity wear to show off your new curves.

6. Sit up, or walk around after meals

You want to keep the acid down after eating, so take a leisurely walk or sit up when you read a book. Avoid bending over, or lying down after eating, as these postures can push your stomach contents back up.

7. Elevate your head and upper chest at night

If heartburn is causing you to lose your precious sleep, prop yourself up with a pillow. Some mums opt for wedge pillows like this one, which gently slants their bodies upwards to help with the acid reflux.

8. Medication

Most medication that helps heartburn is aimed at “taking away the acidic effects of reflux and improving the passage of food and gas”, explains Dr Chong.

There over-the-counter antacids contain calcium and magnesium and should be safe to take during pregnancy. Avoid meds featuring aluminium and high levels of sodium ― these aren’t safe, and may cause swelling because of the fluid buildup in your body. Check with your gynaecologist if you aren’t sure.

Photos: iStock

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