Before becoming pregnant, chances are you never experienced heartburn. During pregnancy, hormones such as relaxin and progesterone relax muscles and ligaments throughout the body. As digestive muscles relax, stomach acids are able to move more readily back into the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn.
Heartburn, or acid reflux, actually refers to discomfort in the stomach and esophagus and is completely unrelated to the heart. However, the physical sensation of burning in the center of the chest that occurs with gastroesophageal reflux explains its popular nickname. Heartburn is very common during pregnancy.
While some medications can trigger heartburn, a diet high in greasy and fatty foods, chocolate and caffeinated beverages, or onion, garlic and spicy foods is often the culprit. Eating too much or too quickly can also lead to reflux, as the muscles preventing stomach acids from returning to the esophagus are weakened and therefore compromised. The more the esophageal lining is irritated, the worse the burning sensation.
Heartburn often worsens when lying down, and it can increase later in pregnancy as the uterus enlarges and presses more on the stomach.
Eating smaller, more frequent meals during the day can help prevent heartburn. Opt for low-fat, less spicy foods if possible. It’s also a good idea to wait a while after eating before lying down.
If heartburn continues to rear its ugly face, there are many treatment options. While over-the-counter antacids can help, they also can contain a lot of sodium and even lead. Talk first with a healthcare practitioner.
Some natural remedies can help alleviate the discomfort of heartburn. Ingesting dairy products such as milk — try it warm with honey — or yogurt can help. Relaxing breath work as well as physical postures of yoga can also prove beneficial.
Yoga Journal maintains a list of postures that assist the digestive organs however, some of these are not advised during pregnancy. Twists, for example, are known to help with digestion but are best avoided during pregnancy unless they are practiced in reverse — that is, opening up rather than reaching across the body, which would compress the abdominal area. Still, there are several postures that are safe and actually recommended for practice during pregnancy.
Virabhadrasana II, or Warrior II Pose, helps with sciatica and back pain, opens the chest, and stimulates abdominal organs.
Utthita trikonasana, or Triangle Pose, helps with sciatica, back pain and stress and also opens the hips and chest and improves digestion.
Marjaryasana and Bitilasana, commonly known as “Cat/Cow,” relieve stress and massage both the back and belly regions.
Adho mukha svanasana, Downward-Facing Dog, is not only calming and good for the back, but it also improves digestion.
Virasana, or Hero’s Pose, helps with leg swelling through the second trimester of pregnancy and also helps with digestive problems and gassiness. Women with knee pain should avoid or modify this pose.
A modified version of Janu sirsasana, or Head-to-Knee Pose, either with no forward fold or folding straight forward rather than toward the knee, can also be helpful to aid digestion.
If your heartburn continues to worsen, talk to a healthcare provider, especially if you have difficulty swallowing, spit up blood, wake up frequently at night due to heartburn, or feel the need to continually take antacids.
Fortunately, heartburn often subsides as soon as the baby is born. While pregnancy can present physically uncomfortable symptoms, a newborn child in your arms is sure to help you forget you ever had any complaints at all.
"Heartburn and indigestion | Pregnancy | March of Dimes." Pregnancy, Baby, Prematurity, Birth Defects | March of Dimes. Web. 25 Aug. 2011. http://www.marchofdimes.com/yourbody_heartburn.html
“Pregnancy and Heartburn.” American Pregnancy Association. Web. 25 Aug. 2011.
" Yoga Journal - Poses: Anatomical Focus - Digestive Organs ." Yoga Journal: Yoga Poses, Classes, Meditation, and Life - On and Off the Mat - Namaste. Web. 25 Aug. 2011. http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/finder/anatomical_focus/digestive_organs
Reviewed on August 25, 2011
by Maryann Gromisch
Edited by Jody Smith