What are indigestion and heartburn?
Indigestion and heartburn are symptoms that are very common in pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, you have an 8 in 10 chance you will experience these symptoms at some point in your pregnancy.
Indigestion, also called ‘dyspepsia’, is a feeling of pain or discomfort in your stomach. This mostly occurs after eating or drinking.
Heartburn, also known as reflux, is a burning pain in your stomach or chest going up towards your throat. It’s caused by stomach acid coming up your esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). The acid irritates the lining of your esophagus.
Sometimes food might come back up from your stomach into your mouth. You might also notice a bitter taste in your mouth.
Why might I get heartburn when I’m pregnant?
Heartburn may be caused by changes in your hormone levels. One of the pregnancy hormones, called progesterone, can relax the muscle that usually holds your oesophagus closed where it meets your stomach. This allows food and acid from your stomach to go back up your oesophagus.
Heartburn becomes more common as your pregnancy progresses. This can happen when your uterus (womb) pushes up against your stomach as your baby grows. This also pushes the contents of your stomach up into your oesophagus.
You’re more likely to get heartburn during pregnancy if you’ve had a baby before or if you get heartburn when you’re not pregnant.
What kinds of things will give me heartburn?
Heartburn can be triggered by what you eat and drink, such as:
- a big meal
- high-fat foods
- spicy foods
- citrus fruit juices
- drinks containing caffeine, including coffee, tea and cola
- alcohol (which is not recommended in pregnancy)
Other things that may trigger heartburn include:
Because everyone is different, it’s a good idea to take note of the particular foods, drinks or activities that give you heartburn while you are pregnant.
Can heartburn hurt my baby?
Heartburn usually won’t cause any problems for your baby, but it’s uncomfortable for you.
A healthy diet is important for both your and your baby’s health. If heartburn is making it hard to eat healthy food, it’s best to treat it.
How can I avoid getting heartburn?
If your symptoms are mild, changing how you eat may help prevent heartburn. You could try:
- eating smaller meals more often and eating slowly
- avoiding eating for 2 or 3 hours before exercise or going to bed
- avoiding foods and drinks that give you heartburn
- avoiding eating and drinking at the same time, which can make your stomach more full
- sitting up straight while eating and not lying down after a meal
- raising the head of your bed or sleeping on at least 2 pillows
- sleeping on your left side
You might find it helpful to chew gum, which makes you produce more saliva to help neutralise the acid from your stomach. Drinking milk can also help neutralise acid.
Is there any medicine I can take?
If your heartburn doesn’t improve by changing how you eat, your doctor or midwife may suggest that you take medicine for it.
Antacids are the first type of medicine to try. They can relieve your symptoms quickly. Antacids are safe in pregnancy as long as you don’t take more than the recommended dose. There are many different types — talk to your pharmacist to find one that’s most suitable for you.
If antacids don’t control your symptoms, speak to your doctor about other medicines you can take.
When should I see a doctor?
If your heartburn symptoms don’t go away with medicine, it’s important to see your doctor. A serious pregnancy condition called pre-eclampsia can cause pain under your ribs and a feeling of heartburn.
You should also see your doctor immediately if:
- you are vomiting up blood
- you are losing weight
- swallowing is painful or difficult