You feel like you’re breathing fire and you can’t enjoy the little things like eating or sleeping anymore.  You have pregnancy heartburn. While this may sound like a minor complaint to those who aren’t experiencing it, pregnancy heartburn can really mess with your quality of life.  Pregnancy heartburn tends to show up during the third trimester (because you need something else to worry about, right?), but some women experience it for their entire pregnancy.

I was always prone to third trimester heartburn and at some points it became so bad that it messed with my ability to work, sleep and eat. I couldn’t lean forward or lay down and it wasn’t just a burning sensation; I would experience what felt like spasms in my esophagus, and the burning in the back of throat would creep into my sinuses and give me headaches.

What causes this phenomenon anyway? During pregnancy, your body releases higher amounts of a hormone called relaxin which is responsible for helping your arteries cope with higher blood flow, and it relaxes your ligaments and soft muscle tissue to help make a vaginal delivery easier. Unfortunately, this useful hormone also relaxes your digestive system, including the sphincter muscle that keeps your food and digestive juices in your stomach.  All that relaxin, coupled with a baby who is pressing up against your stomach, is a recipe for scorching pain that won’t let up.

So, what can be done to help ease the pain? All of the following recommendations are safe during pregnancy and I’ve broken them down into three categories for you: Eating Habits, Food and Supplements, and Medications.

As with all things that we discuss here on our blog, talk with your doctor or midwife before proceeding with these recommendations. Your healthcare provider needs to know what you are experiencing, and they can also tell you if there is something specific about your health that is incompatible with one or more of these suggestions. 

Eating Habits

  • Food combine. Some women find that the more efficient they make their digestion the better they feel. I’ve given you a simple version of effective food combining rules to get you started, and a link to a site that provides a more advanced version.

http://beyondhealth.com/media/wysiwyg/kadro/articles/food-Combining-chart.pdf

Eat fruit by itself or at the very least, eat it before other foods, because it will digest faster the other food groups.

Don’t eat protein and starches together.

Healthy fats and oils take time to digest so give your body a break after eating them and don’t follow up with a snack or another meal until you’ve given them a few hours to digest.

  • Don’t chug your water.  Drink smaller sips of water throughout the day and don’t drink a lot with meals. Too much water with food will slow the digestive process and keep your stomach full longer.
  • Eat smaller meals.  Don’t cut down on your calories (you are building a baby after all), instead spread those calories out throughout the day.  Three small meals with plenty of snacks might help.
  • Don’t eat too close to bedtime.  Heartburn tends to get worse as the day progresses so allowing an hour to two hours for your stomach to empty before you go to bed can help.

Food and Supplements

  • Digestive enzymes.  These can be purchased from any store that has a quality supplement department. Shopper’s Drugmart carries them as well as your local natural supplement store. When taken with food, digestive enzymes can help give you that extra digestive boost that your body might be missing.
  • Peppermint tea. Sip peppermint tea or suck on peppermints to help ease the burning sensation.
  • Apple cider vinegar. It might sound counterintuitive but taking a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before you eat can help your digestion.

Medications

  • TUMS.  This is the standard go-to for many pregnant women.  It works by neutralizing stomach acid so it does slow your digestion down.  Some women find it very helpful, while other women find that it helps for about 20-30 minutes and then makes the problem worse.  If you are going to take TUMS, make sure that you aren’t taking it with an iron supplement because the calcium it contains will prevent your body from using the iron properly.
  • Zantac.  Consult your doctor or midwife before taking this medication, but it has been found to be safe in pregnancy and it tends to be highly effective. This medication stops your body from producing stomach acid, so taking a digestive enzyme with meals is a good idea because you still want to promote digestion. Make sure that you read the insert which discusses possible side effects and dosage.

If you have tried all of the above with no success, then talk to your care-provider about possible prescription medications that could be helpful.

Sarah Mason, Birth Doula and Nutritionist

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