Pregnancy Heartburn Triggers, Foods to Avoid & Remedies

Pregnancy changes your body in many ways, you already know that, but if there’s one pregnancy symptom that catches many mommies-to-be off guard, it would most probably be pregnancy heartburn.

If you often feel a burning feeling or soreness in your chest, or a warm and sour tasting fluid burning in your throat right after eating, lying down, or bending over, you’re experiencing some of the most common symptoms of pregnancy heartburn.  

So how does pregnancy heartburn happen? What are the foods to avoid, and are there other ways to prevent, or at least minimise the discomforts? Here’s more about pregnancy heartburn and some of the easy ways you can manage it.

What Causes Pregnancy Heartburn?

To put it simply, just like any other pregnancy body changes, heartburn during pregnancy is caused by pregnancy hormones.

In detail, as your pregnancy progresses, your uterus will expand outwards and upwards to make space for your growing baby. To help your body make more room, hormones called progesterone and relaxin will signal your body muscles to loosen. As a result, loosened muscles at the top of your stomach might cause stomach acid to escape to your throat, causing heartburn and reflux, which may also worsen morning sickness.

Furthermore, progesterone and relaxin also cause the muscles of your digestive tract to loosen, causing slower digestion. As the foods you consume now stay in your stomach longer, it also makes you more likely to have heartburn.

What Foods Cause Pregnancy Heartburn? 

Pregnancy hormones aside, you should also take note that having certain foods is likely to aggravate heartburn during pregnancy. In general, you should avoid acidic and spicy foods, as they tend to create more stomach acid compared to other foods. Also, as tempting as they may be, you should avoid having fried or fatty foods, which can slow down your digestion and increase likelihood of pregnancy heartburn. Here are some examples of these foods:

1. Citrus Fruits

Whole citrus fruits and their juices can cause heartburn by increasing the acid production in your stomach. Some examples of citrus fruits include lemons, limes, pineapple, oranges and grapefruits. Depending on how your body reacts, you can consider minimising your intake of these fruits or avoiding them completely.

2. Tomato-based Foods

Similar to citrus fruits, whole tomatoes or tomato-based foods are acidic in nature and can cause more acid to build up in your stomach. Whole tomatoes, bolognese sauce, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, sweet and sour dishes are some of the foods you should look out for.

3. Caffeine & Alcohol

Caffeine relaxes the group of muscles that controls the backflow of stomach acid, known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Caffeine can cause the LES to stay open longer, which gives stomach acid the opportunity to seep up and cause heartburn. Some caffeinated foods and drinks that are regularly consumed include coffee, chocolate, tea, as well as certain soft drinks and energy drinks.

Coffee, in particular, is highly acidic, which can stimulate your stomach to produce more digestive acid and aggravate pregnancy heartburn. Also highly acidic, alcoholic beverages not only worsen pregnancy heartburn, but they also increase the risks of other more serious conditions such as miscarriage, premature birth, and low birthweight.

4. Spicy Food

We know, it’s going to be hard to give up on your favourite laksa, mala hotpot, chilli crab, roti prata and more mouth-watering local delicacies, but the good news is, you might find some spicy dishes that give other people heartburn to have no effect on you at all. So if you find it challenging to completely cut them out, try having milder, smaller portions of spicy foods and monitor how your body reacts to them.

5. Fried and Fatty Foods

As delicious as they taste, fried and fatty foods are not healthy for any one in general, and now that you’re pregnant, you have more reasons to avoid them. Fried and fatty foods are likely to cause heartburn because they take longer for your body to digest, which increases the possibility of you having heartburn.

What Other Ways Can I Manage Pregnancy Heartburn?

Now that you’re aware of the food triggers of pregnancy heartburn, we have just a few more tips to help you feel better next time when the burn hits:

  • Take several smaller meals throughout the day, this helps to prevent your stomach from getting too full and allows it to empty quicker.
  • Take your time to chew your food slowly to make it easier for your body to digest them.
  • Avoid eating within three hours before bedtime, this allows your body to digest most of your food before you lie down, which helps control your heartburn at night.
  • Wear loose fitting and comfortable clothes, as tight clothes might add additional pressure around your stomach and worsen heartburn.
  • Sleep with pillows under your shoulders, elevating your head and shoulders when you sleep can help prevent reflux.

If your heartburn persists even after you make diet and lifestyle changes, consult your gynae for professional advice. In more serious cases of heartburn, antacids or medications may be prescribed by your gynae.

The Takeaway

Pregnancy heartburn can feel uncomfortable, but try not to worry too much as the condition generally improves once you give birth and your hormone levels return to their normal pre-pregnancy range.

With diet and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding acidic and fatty foods, and having smaller meals throughout the day, pregnancy heartburn can be easily managed. That said, if home remedies don’t help you feel better, it’s time to get professional advice from your doctor.

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