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The Link Between Pregnancy and Heartburn

The Link Between Pregnancy and Heartburn

Pregnancy comes with a lot of positives — the anticipation of motherhood, the incredible feeling of connection when your baby responds to your voice, and that classic “glow.” But if we’re honest, we’d admit that there are few cons on the list, as well, and one of them is heartburn.

Dr. Darrien Gaston at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants helps women throughout the greater Chicago, Illinois, area manage their pregnancy-related heartburn and acid reflux. Here’s why it happens and what you can do about it.

How heartburn got its name

Heartburn is a digestive issue that has nothing to do with your heart, so how did it get its name?

The moniker comes from the sensation you feel when stomach acid flows upward into your esophagus and irritates the tissues there. Since the lower part of your esophagus is near your heart, the burning sensation can feel as if your heart’s on fire. Rest assured, your ticker is safe.

Your esophagus, however, is not.

A valve at the bottom of your esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is supposed to keep your food and digestive acids safely confined to your stomach. If you’re experiencing heartburn, it means that the valve isn’t doing its job, a condition called acid reflux.

Heartburn isn’t a medical condition in and of itself, but rather a symptom of acid reflux. In its most severe form, acid reflux is called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

Why do pregnant women get heartburn?

More than 50% of all pregnant women experience heartburn for three main reasons: changing hormones, esophageal relaxation, and uterine growth.

Hormones and heartburn

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “eating for two” and assumed it meant that a pregnant woman needs to eat more food to nourish her unborn baby, here’s what it really means.

During pregnancy, a woman’s hormones generate a long list of changes to accommodate the development of another human being, and one of those changes occurs in the digestive system. Your hormones slow down your rate of digestion, so your placenta can absorb the nutrients and nourish the baby — ”eating for two” should really be called “digesting for two.”

This affects your tolerance of certain foods and leads to heartburn. Slower digestion may also make you prone to constipation, which is another trigger for heartburn.

Esophagus relaxation and heartburn

Hormones, specifically progesterone, also causes smooth muscle tissue to relax. This means your LES becomes looser and allows acid to sneak upward — heartburn.

Growing uterus and heartburn

Anything that causes excess pressure on your abdomen can lead to heartburn, which is why constipation and obesity are two of the main culprits. 

Pregnancy and your growing uterus certainly fit the bill, as well. As your uterus expands, it pushes against your stomach and forces the contents upward into your esophagus. Third-trimester moms-to-be rarely escape at least some degree of heartburn, burping, and bloating. 

How to minimize heartburn during pregnancy

Unless your heartburn crosses the line and becomes severe or chronic (GERD), it’s not a serious medical issue. It can, however, make your pregnancy less enjoyable. Dr. Gaston offers a few practical tips to help you minimize heartburn during pregnancy:

Not all medications are safe during pregnancy, so check with your obstetrician before you take any, including OTC antacids. 

It’s time to come see Dr. Gaston if you experience extreme symptoms, such as:

These symptoms may indicate a health condition other than common acid reflux, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. 

If you’re experiencing frequent heartburn, Dr. Gaston can be a valuable addition to your pregnancy medical team. To schedule an appointment, call us or book online today.

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